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Charlie Flanagan pledges 'special status' demand for north

Charlie Flanagan believes there is 'no upside to Brexit' for the north. Picture by Hugh Russell
Charlie Flanagan believes there is 'no upside to Brexit' for the north. Picture by Hugh Russell Charlie Flanagan believes there is 'no upside to Brexit' for the north. Picture by Hugh Russell

THE Republic's foreign affairs minister has said he is committed to securing special status for Northern Ireland ahead of Britain leaving the European Union.

Charlie Flanagan acknowledged that Brexit will happen but he wants a scenario that leaves the UK "as close to the European Union and single market as possible"

The minister was speaking to The Irish News during a visit to Derry yesterday.

Mr Flanagan said he would approach the negotiations on Brexit as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement and would be seeking to ensure that its terms were respected and unaffected by the outcome.

"In terms of the land border on the island of Ireland between the EU and non-EU, I want to ensure the legal and political obligations on behalf of the UK government and my own government remain unchanged," he said.

The minister said he was encouraged by Secretary of State James Brokenshire's recent commitment that the political arrangements under Good Friday Agreement would be unaffected.

He said his priority was to "mitigate the negative impacts of Brexit", of which he said there were many.

"During the referendum I failed to see the advantages for Northern Ireland outside the European Union and there's nothing I have seen since that has led me to change my mind," he said. "There is no upside in Brexit for Northern Ireland."

He said the framework that emerges from negotiations needed to take into account the "special and unique circumstances in Northern Ireland".

In what appeared to be an appeal to unionists to set aside their ideological instincts, he said an outcome was required that worked for the island as a whole.

"The visions on narrow political grounds often at times neglect the greater public good," he said.

"I believe it's important that everybody uses their influence, on both sides of the border, to ensure the best deal for our people is forged."

Mr Flanagan said the Dublin government's aim was for the north to maintain the strongest possible links with Europe.

He said the regional result of June's EU referendum, which saw 56 per cent of the electorate vote to remain, "underlines my argument that there should be special arrangements" and that any measures that were adopted would be "without precedent".

"I acknowledge fully what Theresa May means when she says 'Brexit means Brexit' – that's a given – there'll be no revisiting and no second referendum but I am working for special arrangements that will take account of the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland," he said.

Mr Flanagan said his ideal outcome would be a soft Brexit that upheld the four freedoms of the EU – freedom of movement of people, labour, goods and capital – but noted that if Britain imposed immigration controls that would thwart its continued membership of the single market.

"I'll be seeking an agreement that leaves the UK in as close a position to the European Union and single market as possible," he said.