EU leaders will give Keir Starmer a 'fair hearing' on changes to post-Brexit deal, says Ireland's Simon Harris

Ireland's prime minister Simon Harris has told Sky News that EU leaders will give Keir Starmer a "fair hearing" when it comes to potential changes to the post-Brexit deal with the UK.

Sir Keir has targeted a closer trading relationship with Brussels, including a veterinary agreement that would greatly reduce border checks on animal products.

The taoiseach said in an interview for Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips that in his view there is a space for such a veterinary agreement, something that will be seen as a boost for one of Sir Keir's campaign pledges.

"I do absolutely think there would be a fair hearing for any proposal that the British government or indeed the EU has about ironing out practical issues in terms of having a relationship that works," he said.

"Is there space to have a veterinary agreement, is there space in terms of student mobility, is there space to work closer together on issues? I think there absolutely is.

"And I do think there would be a willingness in Europe to have those conversations in due course, should that be the wish of the British government."

The taoiseach, who is calling for a "great reset" of Anglo-Irish relations that had been strained in the post-Brexit era, promised that Ireland "will always be an ally of Britain having a closer relationship with the European Union".

"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," he said.

If, he said, the British government sought closer relations with the EU, "of course Ireland will be an ally in that conversation".

'An opportunity we must seize'

Labour's landslide victory has sparked renewed optimism on both sides of the Irish border that poor relations with London can be repaired.

"Everybody knows the last number of years have been challenging," said Mr Harris, referring to the fallout from the 2016 Brexit referendum and the years of wrangling that followed.

But now the new occupant of 10 Downing Street is, according to the taoiseach, "a man of integrity".

"He has won a comprehensive victory in the election. He's now the prime minister of our nearest neighbour. I'm very eager to work with him," Mr Harris said.

"Look, the British-Irish relationship is really strong. There's an opportunity now, a real opportunity, that we must seize. The next generation will never forgive us if we don't 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."

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Mr Harris and Sir Keir have already shared a "warm" phone call, and the two men will meet for the first time at a working dinner in Downing Street on 17 July.

The taoiseach has welcomed the prime minister's plan to scrap the controversial Legacy Act, which offered a conditional amnesty from prosecution for troubles-era offences, and which is opposed by all parties on the island of Ireland.

The newly-appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Hilary Benn has already met with Northern Ireland's political leaders this weekend.

Mr Benn met First Minister Michelle O'Neill of Sinn Fein and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly of the DUP at Hillsborough Castle, and stressed the need to build a new relationship between London and Stormont.

It's expected the prime minister will visit Northern Ireland in the coming days to meet with leaders.