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For Ireland, Brexit is not a choice between the U.K. or EU

Charlie Flanagan is Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade

These are difficult days for the European Union. Although our economies are growing once again – none faster than Ireland's – the scars of the economic crisis remain. The management of migration flows will continue to be challenging. With the threat of terrorism internally, and a turbulent geopolitical landscape, ensuring the security of our citizens is a major priority. And Europe is by no means immune to the facile promises of populism.

Brexit is another major challenge. Ireland has particular reasons to regret the decision of the British people to leave the EU. Britain is our closest neighbour and remains a key economic partner, although we now trade considerably more with the rest of the EU. Hundreds of thousands of Irish citizens live in Britain. The two governments are co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement. Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU but now faces leaving along with the rest of Britain. This has added to existing strains between its main political parties, who have been on different sides of the argument. And Ireland will miss Britain's leading voice for free trade and competitiveness.

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But we will make the best of the situation. We will work for an orderly British withdrawal leading to the closest possible future relationship. This must be based on a level playing field and on reciprocal rights and obligations.

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For us, this involves recognizing the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland, preserving the achievements of the Good Friday Agreement and avoiding a hard border in Ireland. And the long-standing rights of Irish and British people to travel and live freely between and within our two islands must be maintained. We have run a major political and diplomatic campaign to win the understanding and support of our European friends on these Ireland-specific issues and are encouraged by the very positive response which we have received.

Let me be clear also that Ireland will be part of the EU team in the forthcoming EU-U.K. negotiations.

For we understand that EU membership is overwhelmingly in our national interest. It has provided the foundation for the dramatic economic and social progress which Ireland has made over the last four decades. Membership of the single market and customs union remains fundamental to our success in attracting inward investment, making trade deals with partners like Canada and helping Irish companies to diversify and grow their export markets. And as a country whose values and interests converge in support of a rules-based multilateral order, the EU provides us with the essential means to project our foreign policy priorities alongside like-minded partners

So, as we manage the challenges which Brexit will pose for Ireland, we reject any notion that we face a choice between the EU and Britain. This view is shared by our public, with surveys showing more than 80 per cent support for EU membership regardless of Brexit. Britain will remain our close friend and partner. But Ireland also has strong economic and political relationships across Europe.

And as we face up to Brexit and other economic challenges, Ireland is ready to seize new opportunities for trade and investment in Europe and across the world.

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As a committed member of the EU and euro zone, with a well-educated English-speaking population and a business-friendly common law environment, we are well positioned to do so, particularly in sectors of existing strength such as financial services, ICT and pharmaceuticals.

We offer a particularly compatible business environment for Canadian companies facing decisions on the potential relocation of their European operations or investments. Moreover, the new EU-Canada trade agreement, CETA, will heighten our focus on Canada as a key market. My government colleagues, ministers Simon Coveney and Eoghan Murphy will carry this message of opportunity on their official visits to Canada during March.

Brexit is a challenge that Ireland did not seek, and we regret Britain's decision to leave the EU. Throughout our history, we have proved ourselves resilient, adaptable and creative – qualities that will serve us well in the period ahead. I am confident that as a committed member of the EU, we can both mitigate the effects of Brexit and take advantage of new economic opportunities in Europe, Canada and across the world.

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