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Irish Finance Minister On Brexit


No matter how the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, the finance minister for the Republic of Ireland, Paschal Donohoe, says the Irish economy is going to suffer. From his country's perspective, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's latest Brexit deal, which was announced yesterday, does soften the blow.

Unlike the deal pushed by former U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, this one gives Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., special status, so it could continue to be aligned to the EU single market. But will the new Brexit deal work in the British Parliament?

Here's what Donohoe said.

PASCHAL DONOHOE: Well, I believe that the agreement that has been reached is one that is very balanced. I believe that it meets the needs that Ireland has talked about for a long time, which is protecting our Ireland and not changing Ireland's economic relationship with Europe.

As to whether it will actually work now, it's now up to Prime Minister Johnson to take this agreement to the House of Commons and hopefully be able to secure a majority in favor of us.

MARTIN: So may I ask you to help us understand how this will affect Northern Ireland? Which we should just explain to our listeners, it is currently part of the European Union because it is currently part of the U.K. It is now going to be treated, if this deal is passed, as a sort of exception. Can you explain how?

DONOHOE: So the critical area of protection here will be that when Northern Ireland leaves the European Union, the agreement will allow the continued movement of trade between Northern Ireland and Ireland and will also have insurance policies in place to ensure that we will not see the return of checks on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. And that's what makes this agreement so important.

Your listeners may remember the runup to the Good Friday Agreement, may remember all the difficulty that we had in Northern Ireland for so long. And part of all of that were the checkpoints that were needed to manage customs and the reaction that those checkpoints generate within the communities that lived on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. And this agreement, if implemented, will avoid that happening in the future.

MARTIN: At least from our perspective over here, it seems as if we have been in this place, or the U.K. rather has been in this place time and time again. Does it feel different to you? Do you feel like it could finally be happening, a deal that would work?

DONOHOE: Well, that's a brilliant question because you're correct - we have been here in a number of occasions before. As you may recall, what this has looked like in the past is an agreement being reached between the EU and the U.K. But in the next phase of it, the agreement then has not been ratified by the House of Commons, which is the Parliament of the United Kingdom. We're going to move into that second phase all over again.

I think I would sum up my feelings at the moment as being one that is a mixture of both caution and optimism. Optimism because I think it is really critical that we have got to a point of potential agreement between Prime Minister Johnson and the European Union. Caution because the next phase of it now is whether this agreement can be accepted by the British political system. And we'll begin to see the answer to that in the debate that will happen in the House of Commons on Saturday.

MARTIN: Paschal Donohoe. He is finance minister for the Republic of Ireland. Thank you so much for taking the time.

DONOHOE: Thank you for having me on again. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.