I welcome the conclusion of negotiations between the EU and the UK today.
I hope that this outcome will now be approved by both sides and that the necessary procedures to allow the agreement to enter force on 1 January will proceed smoothly.
The Government will now consider the detail of the text very carefully.
From what we have heard today, I believe that it represents a good compromise and a balanced outcome.
It is more than four years since the UK decided to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum.
The journey since then has been a long and difficult one.
I have said many times, and will do so again today: though I respect it, I very much regret the decision.
The UK was an important member of the European Union, and Ireland and the UK frequently worked closely together on many EU issues.
However, as we now approach the end of the Transition Period, I wish the UK well in this new chapter in its history.
The UK will always be a close friend and partner.
Our people, our histories and our economies are deeply entwined.
As we move into the next phase of our relationship, we will work together to ensure that it remains deep and strong.
Prime Minister Johnson and I are agreed on that important goal, and have committed to putting arrangements in place in 2021 to underpin the next chapter.
Agreement on the future EU-UK relationship will provide an important underpinning of those new arrangements between us, as neighbours and friends with a deeply shared history.
Ireland and Britain are also, of course, co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement.
Throughout the negotiations, Brexit has been a particular challenge for Northern Ireland.
It has been a priority for this and for previous Governments to protect the achievements of the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement.
That is why implementation of the Protocol on Northern Ireland is so important.
I know that not everyone is happy with the Protocol, but I believe it is a good outcome for the people of Northern Ireland.
It enables Northern Ireland business to trade smoothly with Britain and within the EU Single Market.
It supports the all-island economy.
It protects Ireland’s place in the EU single market and customs union.
Most importantly, it avoids a return of a hard border on the island.
I am confident that with everyone’s goodwill and working together, it will be a success.
There is no such thing as a ‘good Brexit’ for Ireland.
But we have worked hard to minimise the negative consequences.
I believe the agreement reached today is the least bad version of Brexit possible, given current circumstances.
I know that, more than others, our fishing communities will be disappointed with the outcome.
But compared with the prospect of “no deal”, which would have seen them completely excluded from British waters, the negotiators have worked hard to minimise the damage.
The Government will work to ensure that the sector and the coastal communities that depend on it are supported through the period ahead.
When Great Britain leaves the Single Market and the Customs Union at the end of 2020, there will be no tariffs or quotas on trade between us, including on fish.
That, in itself, is a very significant achievement.
However, as we have stressed throughout, big changes are still imminent for our businesses and our citizens.
For businesses who trade with or through the UK, there will be new customs and regulatory formalities, procedures and checks.
Consumers will no longer enjoy the protection of EU law when buying from businesses based in the UK, including online.
With just days to go, I again urge everyone to get informed and to be ready for what lies ahead.
The Government has put in place a range of supports for businesses, and will continue to provide information, advice and assistance in the time ahead.
As we mark today’s news, I want to thank the EU negotiators who have worked tirelessly on our behalf.
President von der Leyen has provided great leadership throughout this process.
Vice President Sefcovic has equally shown great commitment in his work on the Withdrawal Agreement and, in particular, on the Northern Ireland Protocol.
I know that hundreds of officials – in Brussels and elsewhere – have also contributed enormously in these tasks and I thank them for that.
But above all I want to say a huge thank you to Michel Barnier, who for four years has worked with immense patience, determination and creativity throughout the negotiations.
We owe Michel a debt of gratitude; Ireland has been constantly in his thoughts and, I know from what he has told me, in his heart.
We hold him close in ours also.
Here at home, we have benefited from a national approach to Brexit, with broad support across the political spectrum.
I would like to acknowledge, and thank, all the political parties, whether in government or opposition, for their work and support, together with the many diplomats and officials who have worked on Brexit since 2016.
In conclusion, let me acknowledge that 2020 has been a tough year for everyone.
As it draws near a close, I know that many are looking to the Christmas period as a time to rest, to reflect, and to see loved ones.
Covid has taken an enormous toll – on lives and livelihoods, on society, on our economy and on our public finances.
And I know that the latest restrictions have come as a huge disappointment to many.
But maybe, just maybe, we can look to 2021 with a little more hope.
It is too early to ease back on keeping the guard up against Covid.
But the prospect of vaccines being rolled out over the coming months is encouraging.
And today’s news, which will significantly lessen the negative economic impacts of Brexit, will come as a great relief to many.
Today is, therefore, a better day than many that we have been through in 2020.