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Taoiseach welcomes Northern Ireland minister's apology for past ‘ferocious’ Brexit stance

Steve Baker said ministers needed to act with ‘humility’ to restore relationships with Ireland and the EU.

Steve Baker
Steve Baker
Image: PA

Updated Oct 3rd 2022, 2:00 PM

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has welcomed comments made by Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker, who has said he is happy to ‘eat humble pie’ in a bid to improve the broken relationship between Britain and Ireland.

Steve Baker, previously a strident Brexit supporter, said he is “convinced” that a deal can be reached on the Northern Ireland Protocol if negotiations are made in a “spirit of goodwill”.

It comes after the former member of the pro-Brexit European Research Group of MPs apologised over his “ferocious” stance on negotiations with the EU.

He told the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham yesterday that relations with Ireland were not “where they should be”, and added that ministers needed to act with “humility” to restore relationships with the Republic and the EU.

The Taoiseach today told reporters he welcomed Baker’s comments. 

“I think they were honest and very, very helpful and I look forward to continuing engagement with Minister Baker and indeed others in the British government,” he said.

Martin said he had good engagement with new Cabinet members in the British government when he met them at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth. He also met with British Prime Minister Liz Truss.

“We both articulated a collective sense of the longterm desirability of very good relationships obviously between Britain and Ireland and also between the United Kingdom and the European Union,” he said.

Speaking on RTE’s Morning Ireland programme this morning, Steve Baker said he was sorry that relations between the UK and Ireland have been “soured” by the Brexit process.

“I’m very convinced that, if we get into a negotiation, without pre-conditions, and together in a spirit of goodwill, we can de-escalate this problem and we can get a deal which works for everyone, respecting everyone’s legitimate interests, north-south and east-west,” he said.

“And that really is why, if I have to eat a bit of humble pie in order to restore broken relationships to get that done, well, I’m happy to eat a bit of humble pie.”

Baker, who assists Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris, told the conference:  said his motivation for his apology was to try to get a “deal that works” on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“If we’re going to be constructive here and get a deal that works for everyone, we’ve got to de-escalate these tensions. So that was my motivation,” he said.

“I sincerely want to be on the right side of all parties involved in the Good Friday Agreement so that we can make progress, get a deal and get on with the really serious issues that we face in Northern Ireland.”

He added: “I’m sorry that relations between the United Kingdom and Ireland have been soured by the Brexit process.

“And I recognise that as the leader of the sort of 28, if I can put it in those terms, who rejected Theresa May’s deal three times, that caused enormous amounts of anxiety, and I recognise also that businesses in Northern Ireland faced a lot of costs through this process of uncertainty.

“And those are things I want to see put right.

“We can put those right in the deal.”

The comments were welcomed by Minister for European Affairs, Thomas Byrne. 

Deputy Byrne said: “There is an opportunity now to find agreed solutions around Protocol implementation.

“It’s important we now move into real engagement between EU and UK teams, to arrive at solutions.”

The conciliatory tone from ministers came after new UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly held his first call with Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission vice president.

Sefcovic described the call as a “good conversation”, and said negotiating teams are due to meet soon amid a row over post-Brexit arrangements in Northern Ireland.

- With reporting by Michelle Hennessy.

 

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