Annual post-Brexit UK-Irish summit 'could enhance ties'
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney has said the UK and Republic should consider new bilateral structures after Brexit to ensure the good relationship between the two countries is maintained.
Speaking in London last night, Mr Coveney also urged Theresa May to seek "the closest possible" alignment with the EU's customs rules following withdrawal.
Mr Coveney, who is also Tanaiste, urged her to "reflect carefully" on which Brexit options would secure prosperity.
His comments come amid divisions in the Government over the extent to which the UK will diverge from Brussels after leaving the EU.
Mr Coveney suggested that after Brexit an annual meeting of both governments discussing issues of mutual co-operation or concern could help maintain personal contacts between ministers who would no longer meet in Brussels.
"As the UK departs the EU, we don't want to lose the kind of cooperation that can be fostered from a simple conversation on a corridor, or a cup of coffee on the margins of a meeting," he said.
"British and Irish politicians and officials need to keep working and meeting together, to ensure that the understanding we have of each other does not diminish.
"This annual summit of all senior ministers would allow for cooperation across a broad range of issues of shared interest - everything from energy to the environment, and from transport to technology and employment."
Mr Coveney said there was a danger that the relationship between Britain and Ireland would be defined almost exclusively by Brexit.
"Like all good friendships, there must be honesty and trust. While we often - usually, in fact - agree, we should be able to disagree too," he added.
Mr Coveney said the British should be ambitious and imaginative but also realistic in its expectations of a new relationship with the EU.
He said the EU and UK both stood to gain from the closest possible customs and regulatory partnership.
He told his audience: "The most successful single market and customs union in the world - a market UK genius helped design - that market is on your doorstep.
"The British economy is integrated wholly into it, and gains from access to it to a degree that will be impossible to replicate from future UK-only trade deals with third countries."
Mr Coveney also backed the idea of looking at the building of a bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland after suggestions of a crossing between Larne and Portpatrick.
"I certainly see no harm in looking at the feasibility of big infrastructural projects to link our islands, if a credible economic case for any initiative can be made," he said.
But he pointed out that "metaphorical bridges are less costly but no less valuable" as he called for increased UK-Irish co-operation to replace the close relationship the two countries currently had as fellow EU members.
Earlier, Mr Coveney met Chancellor Philip Hammond and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.