British-Irish Council agrees ‘close co-operation’ on travel to tackle virus

Leaders across the British Isles have agreed to continue “close co-operation” on travel to avoid the spread of coronavirus.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon hosted a virtual meeting of the British-Irish Council (BIC) on Friday, which also includes the leaders of Wales and Northern Ireland, Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove.

A communique released after the summit said BIC members had discussed Covid-19 and “the vision, priorities and opportunities to drive economic recovery”, as well as “areas of coherence across member administrations”.

At a press conference following the summit, the first ministers were asked about travel agreements as Christmas approaches.

Ms Sturgeon said: “We agreed at this morning’s summit to continue very close co-operation across the islands, and in particular to look at issues around travel within the common travel area and more generally.

“To make sure that as we, hopefully in the not too distant future, emerge from a second wave of Covid, that we are all collectively taking care not to re-seed the virus.”

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster said the summit had agreed the virus is “going to be with us for some considerable time”.

She said: “We have to move through this in a way where we bring everybody with us and protect the National Health Service, I think that’s imperative.”

Her deputy Michelle O’Neill said the issue of travel is “crucially important as we move forward and move out of wave two”.

General Election Ireland 2020
General Election Ireland 2020

Meanwhile, Mr Martin was asked about trade following Brexit, and he said he recognises negotiations between the EU and UK have “intensified” recently.

He added: “I remain hopeful that an agreement can be reached.”

Mr Gove was asked about a National Audit Office (NAO) report which warned of “significant disruption” around trade when the Brexit transition period ends, and whether this will hamper the economic recovery from coronavirus.

He said he does not think this will be the case, but added the NAO report is a “very useful focus” on what needs to be done by Government.

Mr Gove said: “I’m grateful to colleagues across all devolved administrations, whatever their views on the merits of Brexit, for the pragmatic and constructive way in which they’ve worked with me and with other ministers in order to prepare for the end of the transition period.”

The leaders were also asked about their views on the US election, as votes in several key battleground states continue to be counted.

Ms Sturgeon said the world “desperately needs” American leadership on issues like coronavirus and climate change, saying: “I’m not sure anybody would be greatly surprised to hear my preference for how the final votes will fall.”

Coronavirus – Fri Oct 23, 2020
Coronavirus – Fri Oct 23, 2020

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “We desperately need the United states to show global leadership on the climate emergency, in relation to dealing with the virus, and matters of inequality and of trade and stability.”

Mrs Foster said: “It’s very important we don’t interfere with other people’s democratic wishes. We look forward to the outcome of the American presidential election.

Mr Martin said the Irish diaspora has been heavily involved in the election “on both sides of the aisle”.

He added: “Suffice to say Ireland and the United States have a very strong and enduring partnership and relationship which we value very highly.”

Mr Gove said: “Whoever is American president it’s important we work well with them and I wish both candidates well.”