Next generation will not forgive failure to reset Anglo-Irish relations – Harris

Irish premier Simon Harris has said the next generation will “never forgive us” if the opportunity to reset Anglo-Irish relations is not seized following Labour’s landslide victory in the UK General Election.

Mr Harris acknowledged that there had been “clear policy differences and difficulties and challenges” between the UK and Ireland in the years since Brexit, but said he was eager to work with new Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer.

In one of his first acts in power Sir Keir had a telephone conversation with the Taoiseach and invited him to Downing Street on July 17.

Mr Harris told the Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips programme on Sky News that the British-Irish relationship is “really strong”.

He said: “At the end of the day, we’re neighbours, we’re friends, in many cases we’re family as well, and there’s an opportunity now, a real opportunity that we must seize and that the next generation will never forgive us for if we don’t, to press reset, to say yes it’s been a difficult few years, but you know what? We have so much more in common than divides us.

“We have so many issues of mutual concern. We are two islands side by side.

“Let’s work together and let’s fulfil the promise of the Good Friday Agreement and a Good Friday Agreement that I know is very much in the DNA of the British Labour Party.

“And that’s something that I really, really want to talk to, to Keir Starmer about.”

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Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer has invited Simon Harris to Downing Street (Claudia Greco/PA)

The Taoiseach said one of the priorities of his meeting with the Labour leader later this month would be discussing ways of improving the structures for engagement between the two leaders following Brexit.

“It used to be that whoever the Irish taoiseach and British prime minister was would meet regularly through their membership of the European Union.

“They’d meet on the fringes of European meetings. Those structures obviously aren’t there now.

“I respect that fact. But we do need to look for new ways of making sure that regular engagement happens.”

He said: “I think when the relationship has gotten particularly challenging on occasion between Britain and Ireland, it has sometimes been through a lack of those structures.

“So that’s the first thing I wanted to talk with him about, because I believe if we get that right, so much good can flow from that.”

Mr Harris said people didn’t need a history lesson over why the relationship has been difficult in recent years.

He said: “Obviously, Brexit did make life challenging and challenging in relation to the relationship between the two islands and also, I suppose, changed that in many ways because no longer will be two countries within the European Union.

“We’ve also had a situation where up until recently, there was a vacuum in Northern Ireland in terms of the institutions not functioning.

“Thankfully, that’s now been been settled, and I think the fact that we now have a new British prime minister and indeed a new Irish taoiseach does present a real opportunity for both of us, both myself and the British prime minister, to dig deep in terms of resetting Anglo-Irish relations and both of us to show some leadership in that regard, because the relationship between our two countries, the relationship as close neighbours, our closest neighbours, it matters and it matters to people on both of our islands.”

He added: “But there were clear policy differences and difficulties and challenges over, over the last number of years.”

Mr Harris insisted he had a “very good professional relationship” with Rishi Sunak.

He also said Ireland would be an ally in any discussions the UK had in improving its relationship with the European Union.

Referring to Brexit, he said: “That decision has been made and my understanding is there’s no British government that intends to revisit that in any manner or means.

“However, it is obviously important that Britain and the European Union continue to be good neighbours and it is absolutely in Ireland’s interest that we facilitate that in every way we can around any European table.”