Belfast Telegraph

David Lidington: Everything we do will have at its very core protection of the Agreement

Government determined to get best Brexit for NI, writes Cabinet Minister David Lidington

As we prepare for our departure from the European Union, the Government has an unshakeable commitment to ensure we achieve the best possible deal for Northern Ireland and maintain the positive relationship with our partners in Europe, including Ireland, that has been built up over many years.

I am well aware of the importance to the economies of both the UK and Ireland of getting this right, but also conscious of the need to avoid any detrimental impact on families, friends, communities and workers who traverse the border as they go about their everyday lives.

This week I have been in Belfast and Dublin to underline our commitment to a positive future for Northern Ireland as we leave the EU. I have also heard from people about what they need to deliver for communities on both sides of the border.

And I have been listening closely to the concerns people here have that nothing should be done to undermine the progress towards peace and prosperity that has been able to flourish over the past two decades.

That progress is, of course, best advanced through re-establishing a strong Northern Ireland voice through the restoration of an Executive, something that it has been without for over a year.

That is why the restoration of devolved government at Stormont remains one of our highest priorities and, as Northern Ireland Secretary, Karen Bradley will continue to work tirelessly with the parties towards that objective.

Earlier this month world leaders both past and present came together to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Belfast Agreement in 1998, which paved the way for the creation of the institutions we seek to see restored today.

It was a moment when political will triumphed over the chaos and conflict that had beset Northern Ireland from the outbreak of the Troubles in the 1960s. Two decades later, as we leave the EU, the UK Government's commitment to the Agreement and its successors remains steadfast. Everything we do will have as one of its core aims the protection and implementation of that Agreement, including both North/South and East/West relationships.

I have seen for myself on this visit the power that bringing together all communities has had on the next generation.

When I visited an integrated school in north Belfast, students talked passionately to me about a vision for their future that is inclusive and forward-looking; accepting difference but refusing to be defined exclusively by difference.

It has been heartening to witness this. And it has brought back memories from the four years I spent as shadow Northern Ireland secretary between 2003 and 2007, building up an understanding of the complexities and subtleties of life in this corner of the United Kingdom.

As well as building on the achievements of the past, the new deep and special partnership that we are seeking with the European Union must work towards ensuring prosperity, opportunity and innovation in all parts of the United Kingdom.

The progress that we have made in our negotiations has underlined that citizens are at the heart of our approach. That is why it is important that we have agreed there will be no change to the common travel area, and that discussions have continued intensively on issues including human rights and the single energy market.

A sustainable deal will only be one that can be seen by all parts of the community to be a balanced agreement - one that follows the requirements of the Belfast Agreement in fully respecting and upholding the "ethos, aspiration and identity" of both communities.

That vision lay at the heart of last December's joint report agreed between the EU and the United Kingdom.

Both sides committed to upholding the totality of relationships within the Belfast Agreement and the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, underpinned by the principle of consent.

Equally, the Prime Minister has said that no UK Government could accept the creation of new barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

As we continue to work with the EU on a future relationship that is in our mutual interests, we have been unequivocal that there can be no physical infrastructure at the border.

I understand that many people have very real concerns about the border, which is an integral part of their everyday lives - whether to do business, go to school or visit family. We want people's lives to continue as before. That's why I will be meeting businesses and communities living on both sides of the border today to hear about their concerns in person.

I will also listen to what it is they want to see from our future relationship to ensure the UK Government, the Irish Government and the European Union deliver on that mutually beneficial relationship we seek.

It is in everyone's interest - on both sides of the border and in all communities - that we get this right.

While these issues can sometimes sound abstract to people living in other parts of the United Kingdom, the Government fully understands that for people in Northern Ireland, they are matters of the most fundamental importance.

The Government will never lose sight of that as we continue to negotiate a future relationship that preserves what unites us and respects the rights of all.

David Lidington is Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office

Belfast Telegraph

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