Northern Ireland minister’s apology ‘honest’ and ‘very helpful’ – Taoiseach

Micheal Martin welcomed the tone of Steve Baker’s ‘upfront’ comments.

Micheal Martin
Micheal Martin

Ireland’s premier has described Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker’s apology over his previous stance on Brexit as “honest” and “very helpful”.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin welcomed the tone of Mr Baker’s “upfront” comments.

Mr Baker, a former strident Brexiteer and member of the pro-Brexit European Research Group of MPs, apologised on Sunday over his “ferocious” stance on negotiations with the EU.

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

Speaking after a shared island event in Dublin on Monday, Mr Martin said: “I welcomed not just his comments, but the tone of his comments.

“I think they were honest and very, very helpful.

“And I look forward to continuing engagement with Minister Baker and others within the British Government.”

Prime Minister Liz Truss said Mr Baker was speaking for himself.

In an interview with UTV filmed on Sunday, she said: “Steve speaks from his own personal experience being deeply involved in the Brexit debate, but he speaks for the whole Government in that we absolutely want to find a negotiated solution to deal with the issues of the Northern Ireland Protocol and work with our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland.”

Asked whether she thought she should apologise on behalf of the UK Government, Ms Truss said she had “always worked constructively with the EU and the Republic of Ireland”, but reaffirmed that “we do need to fix the very serious issues that have been caused by the NI Protocol”.

Prime Minister Liz Truss
Prime Minister Liz Truss at the Tory party conference (Jacob King/PA)

The Taoiseach said he had a “very good engagement” with Ms Truss and new Cabinet members at the Queen’s funeral.

“I met the British Prime Minister and we both articulated a collective sense of the long-term desirability of very good relationships between Britain and Ireland and also between the United Kingdom and the European Union, and I think those comments are in that context,” he said.

Mr Martin added it is “very clear” that there is a “genuine determination to try and resolve all of the issues around the protocol by negotiation”.

But he warned there is “a lot of work to be done in terms of the hard negotiations”.

Talks are set to resume later this week between the UK and the EU in a bid to find a way out of the impasse.

Mr Baker said on Monday that he is happy to eat humble pie in a bid to improve the broken relationship between Britain and Ireland.

He told Irish broadcaster RTE Radio 1’s Morning Ireland programme he is sorry that relations between the UK and Ireland have been “soured” by the Brexit process and that he is “convinced” a deal can be reached on the protocol if negotiations are made in a “spirit of goodwill”.

Steve Baker
Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker said he is sorry that the Brexit process has soured relations (Jacob King/PA)

“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,” Mr Baker 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.”

Mr Baker said his motivation for his apology was to try to get a “deal that works”.

“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 Belfast 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 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.”

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