Prince William and Kate talk Brexit with Irish president in historic visit

Rebecca Taylor
Royal Correspondent

Prince William and his wife Kate talked about Brexit as they met Irish president Michael D. Higgins on their historic royal tour of Ireland.

It’s the first time the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have made an official visit to the Emerald Isle.

The visit is at the request of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and comes shortly after the UK left the EU.

It’s also not long since a shock Irish election which saw Sinn Fein make huge gains, leaving Leo Varadkar having to issue his resignation to the president.

The Cambridges had afternoon tea with Higgins, where they talked about Brexit and “the challenges ahead”.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge meet Leo Varadkar, Taoiseach of Ireland, and his partner Matt Barrett. (Press Association)

Read more: Duke and Duchess of Cambridge fly commercial for first Ireland visit

In a statement released after their meeting, a spokesman for Higgins, who was joined by his wife Sabina Coyne, said: “The couples discussed the close ties between the people of Ireland and Britain and the importance of continuing and deepening close relations between all of the peoples of these Islands.

“President Higgins, Sabina and Their Royal Highnesses spoke of the challenges ahead, including the implications of the UK’s departure from the European Union and the importance of continuing to build on the foundations of the Good Friday Agreement.

“They also discussed the global challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss and the urgent need to revisit the fundamentals of how we organise our economies and societies if we are to tackle these existential threats in a meaningful way.

“The importance of removing obstacles that inhibit young people from building their skills and realising their aspirations for a truly fair and sustainable world, and the particular importance of responding to the vulnerabilities of young people was among the other topics discussed.”

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge spoke about Brexit during afternoon tea. (Press Association)

While royal family members rarely make overt political statements, their diplomatic visits often come against a backdrop of a wider political situation which affects topics of conversation and events they take part in.

The Irish border was the cause of many headaches for politicians during the Brexit process, with commitments on both sides that there will not be a return to hard infrastructure last seen during The Troubles.

But the system by which the border, which will be between the EU and a third country after the transition period, can operate has not been finalised.

Officials in EU have previously warned a hard border on the island of Ireland will return without a deal.

The duke and duchess laid a wreath at a memorial garden in Dublin which remembers those who gave their lives to fight for Irish independence.

Read more: Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar resigns after inconclusive election result

William and Kate laid a wreath at the garden in Dublin. (Press Association)
Catherine paused for a minute after she and William laid a wreath. (Press Association)

The wreath included the message: “May we never forget the lessons of history as we continue to build a brighter future together.”

Despite the tensions between the British monarchy and Ireland, the royals got a warm reception when they arrived at the memorial garden.

Crowds who had gathered and waited more than an hour for a glimpse of the pair cheered and shouted “Welcome to Ireland”.

After meeting the Irish president, Prince William and Kate travelled to the government buildings in Dublin to meet the caretaker prime minister Varadkar and his partner Matt Barrett.

They were there for about 30 minutes speaking to the Taoiseach, and afterwards, he tweeted: “It was a pleasure to welcome the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to Government Buildings this afternoon as part of their visit to Ireland.”

The couple will be in Ireland until Thursday.