the headlines. president trump has changed his explanation about why he fired the director of the fbi, james comey. he said he'd already decided to sack him before receiving advice from thejustice department. he claimed mr comey was a "grandstander" who had left the fbi in turmoil. foreign ministers of the eight countries with territory in the arctic circle have agreed on the need for urgent global action to reduce greenhouse gases. however, the us secretary of state, rex tillerson, told the ministers meeting in alaska that his country would not rush to make a decision. one of south africa's top universities, stellenbosch, has suspended three students suspected of putting up nazi—style posters around the campus. the university has condemned the material, but critics say it highlights how apartheid—era attitudes are still alive. now on bbc news, it's time for hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk, from dublin. i'm stephen sackur.
ireland has bounced back from the financial crisis of 2008, but now it is being swept by a new wave of apprehension. this time it's all about brexit. because when britain leaves the european union, ireland will suffer significant collateral damage in terms ofjobs, trade, and the status of its borders. my guest today is ireland's foreign and trade minister, charles flanagan. will brexit have catastrophic consequences across the irish sea? charles flanagan, welcome to hardtalk. thank you. let me begin with some words from your boss, the prime minister, enda kenny. he said brexit represents the greatest economic and social challenge to this island in 50 years. now, he said that some time ago, not long after the british referendum. do you feel that way about brexit today? yes. the withdrawal of our neighbours, the uk, from the eu is potentially
very damaging for the uk, for europe and for ireland. it certainly wasn't the result we expected or wanted. we're very disappointed, but we've got to deal with the cards as now played. this is potentially very damaging for the equilibrium of europe. the market of 550 million people, the great peace project of many years standing. and with ireland, as the nearest neighbours of the uk, in the event of there being adverse consequences, well then we're most likely here to suffer most. that must make you very angry, doesn't it? that here you are, unable, really, to have an influence over an event which could be catastrophic for you and your country? we're not so much angry as disappointed. that's why in the context of the negotiations that are about to begin, we are anxious
to impress upon everybody, ourfriends in the uk, ourfamily in the eu, that this needs to be handled in an orderly manner. some of the preliminaryjousting has not been in that direction. that said, we have to look forward now to the negotiations being conducted in a way that ensures that the parties remain around the table and that these negotiations, this challenge, is dealt in a way that ensures there is a deal at the end. let's talk about some specifics. let's talk with your trade minister hat on, as well as foreign minister hat. you more than anybody else in ireland, i dare say, are aware of the reliance of ireland on the two—way trade of the uk, worth something like 60 billion euros every year. your own economic forecasters say that if there is a hard brexit it is going to cost your economy tens of thousands ofjobs, possibly 4% of gdp over the next ten years, if not more. it's an absolute disaster. this is one of the greatest challenges that we have faced
as a state since our independence in the 1920s. certainly the challenge of my generation and i believe it's important therefore that the irish priorities are very much to the fore in the context of these negotiations. you're right about our trade. we are very much reliant on our neighbours in terms of our agri—food and beverage business, in particular. ireland, over the centuries, has been the bread basket or the main food supplier of great britain. but we haven't had all of our eggs in one basket. our membership of the eu has ensured that we have diversified in terms of our markets. and while you speak very highly about our trade relationship with britain, our trade relationship with our european colleagues is twice that of the uk. but that's not to say i'm by no means underscoring or underplaying our relationship with britain. no, and this is what you said recently.
you said, on brexit, resolving irish issues is absolutely crucial and the eu and the uk must show real and positive goodwill because, this is the key phrase, no deal, you said, is not an option. idid. but patently no deal is an option, because theresa may has told us that she would rather walk away with no deal than sign up to a bad deal. yes, but i think undoubtedly the worst of all relationships between the uk and the european union is no deal, because that would mean a reversal back to old trade organisation routes and regulations and i can't for the life of me see how that could be appropriate or suitable or advantageous to britain and neither would it be to europe. it certainly wouldn't be the ireland because your livestock producers would be killed by that. so much of their trade is with the uk and if, as i understand it, you reverted to wto rules and tariffs on meat exports, ireland's industry would be decimated.
accepting that and also looking beyond trade, in terms of politics, for example. no deal, in the event of there being a uk withdrawal from the talks, what happens to uk citizens in their millions, living across the european union? what happens to eu citizens in their hundreds of thousands enjoying life and work and benefits in the uk? so, to my mind, no deal, or a walk out, or a difficulty that will not result in a settlement is the worst of all options and that's why, again, i have to stress the need on all parties to ensure that the process commences in an orderly way, with a set agenda. and from the irish perspective, one of our priorities will be and must be that there is as close as possible a relationship between the uk and the eu. let's keep this simple. in essence, you are saying to your european colleagues who are dealing with the brexit file, please don't have the mindset of punishing
britain, because if you punish britain you're actually going to punish ireland too. acknowledging the irish priorities has been myjob as foreign minister. i have a constitutional duty to the irish people to protect their interests. and what i've been saying to my eu colleagues is that this should not be a punishment beating. this should not be exacting retribution on any of its members, in particular the uk, for leaving the family. this needs to be dealt with in an orderly manner but acknowledging that it's a very, very serious challenge and a proper mess. if one is to get to the specifics of the challenges, perhaps the biggest of all is what on earth to do about the more than 400 kilometre long border between your country and northern ireland, which of course is part of the uk. what is going to happen on that border? are there going to be border posts, walls or fences and customs officials checking every person and vehicle crossing your border with northern ireland? we don't want our relationship,
the relationship between the uk and ireland, which has been carefully nurtured over the last number of years, with particular reference to the peace process, with particular reference to east—west relations, between dublin and london that are on the warmest and most positive footing since our independence in 1921. we don't want anything to happen that will disrupt or damage that positive relationship. i'm sorry, but something is happening that is disrupting all of that and it is called brexit and you have to live with the reality. it is going to happen and you are going to have to cope with it and it does mean that after britain has left, and theresa may says there will be no membership of the single market or the customs union, there's going to have to be a meaningful border between your country
and northern ireland. one of the most critical elements of these negotiations, and it was identified by prime minister may and by commissioner barnier and my commission juncker, in fact by all of the dispatches leading up to the start of the negotiations, the unique and particular circumstances on the island of ireland have been appreciated and acknowledged. that of course is the border. we've enjoyed what has been an open border since the peace process, since the historic good friday peace agreement of 1998, and i believe it's essential in the context of these negotiations that the open border remains as is. of course that will be difficult. how can it? of course it will be a challenge. how can it? well, let's just negotiate matters forward and that's why i'm very pleased that commissioner barnier, the chief negotiator, is on the border. i've had the luxembourg foreign
minister at the border a few weeks ago. i believe it's important that eu leaders and negotiators see the critical progress that has been made in terms of people to people relations and peace on the island of ireland. yes or no — do you believe it is tenable, possible, that border posts and fences could go up along the border? i say no to border posts and no to fences. i say no to hard border. but i'm not saying anything fundamentally different to what i'm hearing from prime minister may, from secretary of state davis, from the foreign secretary and from my colleague, secretary of state brokenshire. i believe we have to work with the eu to ensure that the open border between ireland and northern ireland remains, on the basis that 30,000 people cross every day to work, to school, to families, that doesn't include people going to sporting or cultural pursuits. that open border is a must in all circumstances. i'll tell you what i'm hearing from some quarters, the idea that northern ireland could in some way get
special dispensation, whatever the wider agreement between the uk and eu in terms of customs, northern ireland could in essence be the same customs area as your country, ireland. if that were to be the case, the defacto, real, sort of, trade border between the island of ireland and the rest of the uk would be the irish sea and it would be at airports that the real regulation and monitoring and checking would take place, going into the rest of the uk. is that possible from your point of view? i'm not going to get into the endgame now, but in two years‘ time i think it is important that we have whatever framework to ensure that the peace process on the island of ireland is not disrupted, that the very positive trading relations between the north and south is not disrupted and we can ensure the border is open. that would mean looking at advanced technological devices, to ensure if there are to be checks for goods and services that they can take place in a way that doesn't disrupt traffic between ireland, north and south.
and when we talk about the peace processes it is important to note the positive role the eu had in framing that peace process and it's another reason why i very much regret and am very saddened at the withdrawal of the uk from the eu, when i acknowledge the role the eu played, in conjunction with ireland and the uk, in having oui’ peace process. so you talk about the benefits of the eu in furthering the northern ireland peace process. the leader of sinn fein, gerry adams, says first of all he fears that taking, this is a direct quote, taking northern ireland out of the eu could destroy the peace agreement in northern ireland. second, he says, look, now is clearly the time, given the possibility that the island of ireland may find a solution, particularly to this customs problem, by some sort of integrationist approach. he says the time is coming where we need to ballot the people of the north on whether in fact the time has come to consider unification of the island of ireland. how do you feel about that?
that time is not now. i don't believe we should conflate the issue of the unification of ireland with the withdrawal of the uk from the eu. but a clear majority of the people in northern ireland voted to stay in the eu. is that for you, in the irish government, that has been committed to the long—term vision of uniting the island of ireland, is it not a wonderful opportunity for you to say to the people of the north, think about it? think about having a vote on joining us, because then you can stay in the eu, all of these problems disappear and we will be as one? i'm sure the people of northern ireland think about these issues all the time, but i'm at one with the secretary of state brokenshire and his colleagues in the british government, when we adhere strictly to the letter of the good friday agreement.
it states that a border poll will take place at some stage in the future, when in the opinion of the secretary of state for the time being of northern ireland that the time is right for that. i don't believe that time is now. i believe we have a significant challenge, the greatest challenge of my generation, in dealing with the withdrawal of the uk from the eu and the consequences for the island of ireland, especially northern ireland. so i don't believe that a debate now on the merits or otherwise of a united ireland is timely or appropriate. all right. well, i'm just asking you a different direct question now. leaving aside your belief that there is no time right now for a border poll, as you call it, a vote in ireland or a vote to consider reuninification, do you believe, quite simply, that brexit makes the long—term prospect of a divided ireland more possible? well, i think it has people thinking about it in perhaps a way they have
not in the past. just a simple answer. i think it may well do. it may well do. but i'm concentrating now on the job at hand, which is withdrawing from the eu, and the adverse effects, as i don't see there is upside for ireland... i think the unionists will listen to this carefully and feel once again dublin is looking for an opportunity to talk about ireland. we don't think about it at any time. i acknowledge the primacy of the good friday agreement and i acknowledge that now is not the time to talk about border polls and the unification of ireland. i am saying the unique circumstances on ireland need to be acknowledged. for example, there are 1.8 million people. under the good friday agreement, it is accepted that each of those people is allowed to declare themselves as british, or irish, or both. and those who declare themselves as irish are entitled to an irish passport.
if you are entitled to an irish passport, you are by definition an irish citizen. and if you are an irish citizen, in the post—brexit uk, you are entitled to an eu citizenship. that will need to be resolved in the negotiations. everyone living in the area outside of the eu, keeping in mind the fact that we are withdrawing from the eu, accepting that northerin ireland is part of the uk, a situation where eveybody who has left the eu is entitled to eu citizenship, that in itself warrants unique and special circumstances to take that into consideration. it is one of those many challenges of the negotiating process which hasn't yet commenced.
i want to think about ireland's position in the world, not through the prism of brexit, but the way both the eu and your other key partner in trade and foreign affairs, the us, have changed in the recent past. let's start with the us, your biggest trading partner by far. donald trump is president. donald trump believes in protectionism, donald trump believes in putting america first. it is a fundamental challenge to ireland's economic model, is it not, which has been built around using very low taxes, particularly corporate taxes, to attract business, especially from the us, to base itself here in ireland. and donald trump does not want that to continue. well, of course, as foreign minister, i don't meddle in other jurisdictions, be it northern ireland or the united states of america. what we offer, in terms of a base for american companies here in europe, is the most dynamic, enthusiastic, and youngest population in europe. well, you know what you offer them,
we all know what you offer them, a 12.5% corporate tax rate. donald trump is now saying he wants to cut corporate taxes in the us to 15%. your crucial competitive edge which has driven the irish economic recovery since the meltdown crash of 2008 and is being taken away from you. no. 0ur competitive edge on our eu colleagues and others is not exclusively or merely in the area of taxation. it is the adaptability of our workforce and the skills of the workforce. dublin is repeatedly voted among the top european... you may think that, minister, but look at... the record speaks for itself. the record could be looked at in different ways. look at the legal case in europe about apple and the way in which ireland taxed apple, one of the most successful corporations in the world. you know, you let apple put their profits in this country, and you taxed them at a rate
that was less than 1%, much less than 1%. and the eu said this is not acceptable. the wind has changed and you're not going to get away with it any more. ireland offers no favourable tax deals to any corporations, companies, or individuals. and there is no legal case. what you speak of is an analysis by the european commission. we respect the european commision, but we fundamentally disagree with them. they asked you to tax apple for 13 billion euros‘ worth of tax which they said you had deliberately failed to extract from that corporation. it was simply give them the tax break to keep them on your territory. it was analysis from the european commission. we have appealed to the european court in order to get a legal judgement on that. we are satisfied and confident that the irish position will be vindicated in that regard.
we offer no sweetheart deals to any company. how can you say that to me when you know the real tax rate you imposed on apple was an absurd 0.05%, or something. we tax companies like any other eu country and like donald trump does in his ownjurisdiction. do you like the fact that ireland is now seen as a tax haven across europe which offers sweetheart deals and unfair breaks to big corporations? that is not the case. ireland always cooperates with international actors in the event of difficulties, challenges and adverse opinions. but for many years we have been in full cooperation with, for example, the 0ecd. and we have changed some of our revenue practices. the ones you mentioned are from the 1990s, over 20 years ago. so, you acknowledge the wind has changed? we acknowledge we need
to engage with... i'm sure, as foreign minister of ireland, i'm sure you are aware that the new president—elect of france, emmanuel macron, has said he sees the eu's direction of travel as towards a unified treasury, unified tax and fiscal policies across the european union. that's a very clear message to a country like ireland that you will not get away with this anymore, of being the tax haven of europe. that is exactly... that is exactly what was said a number of years ago. that is exactly what president sarkozy said a number of years ago. we very much welcome the presidency of emmanuel macron. we very much look forward to working with him. and if there are issues around moving forward as a european family, of course, ireland will fully engage in that process. it will drag its heels and say "absolutely no way." to come back to the point that you managed to recover from your terrible economic meltdown
by using an extraordinarily quote unquote "tax regime," the way things are looking for europe today and the direction of travel, that will not be tenable in the future. ireland will have to find a new way of becoming a successful economic player in europe. ireland, being a small and open economy, is subject to international trade winds and the winds of adverse economic policies from time to time. irish people, more than perhaps anyone on the planet, have shown themselves to be incredibly resilient in the face of adversity. we will do the same as far as brexit is concerned. you must be aware of the winds of populism blowing through the world. we've talked about donald trump. in fact, your prime minister went on st patrick's day to the united states and lectured donald trump about the dangers of what he is doing
in the united states, especially with travel bans and building walls. but it is notjust there, it is in europe too. ireland is a small country with an open liberal approach to its economics and its politics. it will have a real problem, won't it, as this trend towards protectionism, building walls, keeping others out, spreads. all politicians face challenges. in fact, challenge is the spice of politics. no one in anyjurisdiction escapes being in the position to take on the challenges. look at recent elections across europe, the austrian election, the netherlands and their election. there has been a push back against populism. look at our own jurisdiction. in ireland we are operating in the most minority of government situations. my message to people is there are complex issues and difficult challenges out there in terms of international
trade and international relations, and international security, an issue which we have not an opportunity to discuss this morning. but ultimately, i believe there are no simple answers, simple solutions, to very complex questions, and i believe the centre must hold in europe, and the centre must hold in ireland. i don't have immediate answers to all the complex challenges. but i don't believe that the answer lies in populism. and i don't believe in 2017 that attempting to regress the globalisation of the last number of years is going to work. charles flanagan, we must end it there, but thank you for being on hardtalk. hello. now, i haven't used this particular sphere for quite some time. and for some parts of the british isles through thursday there was no need.
looking almost tropical here on the ayrshire coast. to the south—west of england, yes, a wet sphere very much the order of the day. and, for that, you had to thank an area of low pressure throwing more cloud and rain ever further north across some parts of the british isles. you may have noticed this in the south of england and wales. an increasingly humid feel. and it's that change of regime into the first part of friday that will become increasingly dominant, certainly across the southern half of the british isles. and as you step out first thing, 10—13,where a wee while ago it was 3—5. further north, a fresher feel about proceedings. details about the journey to work or school run first thing on friday. 12—13 degrees quite widely across southern counties. a rather grey start to the day. not too much in the way of sunshine.
and a speckling of showers, even at this stage. come a little bit further north, a better chance of seeing sunshine across the north of england, getting up into the western side of scotland. some rain to be had there quite widely across northern ireland. and i make this distinction in scotland between the west and east because out towards the east, there'll be a lot of low cloud and it will be around for a good part of the day. and it's notjust eastern scotland, it's the north—east of england too. with an onshore breeze, cloud sitting low in the atmosphere. an onshore breeze keeping it cold through the day. further south, some heat comes through. showers turning quite sharp. maybe the odd rumble of thunder. no such fears in the east of scotland or indeed the north—east of england. nine or 10 degrees, leaden skies. through the course of the weekend, sunny spells, and some showers and spells of rain. eventually things will turn a bit
fresher as we switch the breezes coming in from the atlantic, rather than from the continent. saturday sees much of the disturbed weather in the north—west of england, central and southern scotland. further south, an isolated shower. but quite a bit of dry weather. saturday night into sunday, we swing this area of cloud and rain right across the british isles. it'll be across eastern parts for the first part of sunday. this is where we import the fresh air, across the british isles. once that is away, once again, a day of sunny spells and some really sharp showers. this is bbc news. i'm james menendez. our top stories: changing his story. president trump says he decided to fire the fbi boss even before getting advice from the justice department. emmanuel macron unveils his party's parliamentary candidates. more than half have never held office before. europe's gaudiest song competition is this weekend. but what impact will brexit have on eurovision? zooming exports.