Taoiseach Enda Kenny and British prime minister Theresa May will hold talks in Dublin next month amid ongoing concern over the potential impact of Brexit on Irish people at home and abroad.
The Fine Gael leader confirmed the situation as he acknowledged the removal of Britain from the EU could take a decade and as his officials sought to downplay concerns over the rights of UK-based Irish citizens.
Speaking to reporters as part of a wide-ranging Christmas media briefing, Mr Kenny said he will meet with the Conservative party leader in late January to clarify a series of issues directly related to Brexit.
The visit by Ms May, her first to the Republic since replacing David Cameron earlier this year, was agreed during discussions at a European Council meeting in Brussels last Thursday.
Mr Kenny said the talks, which will be followed by cross-border meetings in Dublin Castle in February on issues such as agriculture, trade, and tourism, will be key to again underlying Ireland’s concerns over Brexit in the lead up to the planned March triggering of the move.
However, despite previously suggesting the removal of Britain from the EU may take place within two years, Mr Kenny yesterday publicly agreed for the first time with comments from Britain’s secretary of state for leaving the EU, David Davis, that it could in reality take up to a decade.
“It’s probably going to mean a much bigger transition period, it could be 10 years, it could be eight years, or it could six years,” he said when asked about the legal complications involved in the removal caused by shared laws.
At the same press conference, Mr Kenny also rejected concerns Irish citizens living in Britain could see their working rights and other related matters severely reduced in the wake of Brexit.
Earlier this week, Ms May said during a Westminster debate that continuing the rights of Irish citizens in Britain would be dependent on guarantees that the rights of British citizens living in other EU countries would also not change. The move would potentially put at risk the working rights and migration status of Irish citizens in Britain, forcing thousands to return home.
However, asked about the comments as Irish Government officials claimed Ms May intended to refer to all EU citizens and not just Irish people — a position Westminster has not confirmed — Mr Kenny said Britain’s support for the common travel area means there is little need for alarm.
“Ireland has acquired, along with Britain, particular rights between our countries for a long period. The common travel area is not just for social reasons but it is also for work opportunities. She did ask that when the negotiations would start that a question of European Union people, living in Britain, and British people living in Europe, would be dealt with at an early part of those discussions. And that is separate from the rights and relationship that Ireland has with the UK,” he said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said at a separate event yesterday that British officials have said they will make “every effort” to continue the common travel area.
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