The European Union has provided a very productive framework that has allowed for a more accommodating relationship. The kind of discussion that Patrick Hillery had with Lord Chalfont in the summer of 1969, when he was actually told that Ireland had to put its own affairs in mind, would now, fortunately, be unthinkable, since our two governments work closely together on northern Ireland-related issues. I believe that membership of the European Union has helped to change relations between our two countries. Before we joined in 1973, the relationship was asymmetrical. For Ireland, this was an overwhelming priority, but much less so for the United Kingdom, with its wider horizons. Prior to 1972, our trade relations were governed by the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement, in which Ireland exchanged access to the British market for British industrial products. In 1959, the Irish government offered full duty-free access to British industrial products when Irish agricultural products were treated on the same level in the Uk market. This offer was rejected by London because it offered too much advantage to Ireland. This shows the nature of free trade agreements, which are competitive and unsymtalring. This was agreed in a memo prepared for the British government during negotiations on the agreement, according to the 1965 cabinet documents published yesterday. Being a partner in Europe has helped us to understand everything we have in common.
We tend to look at a wide range of European issues on an equal footing. About 25 meetings are held every day in Brussels at all levels, and Irish and British officials will meet and work together at each of these meetings. We participate in several like-minded groups on topics on which we have common interests and perspectives. Ireland and the United Kingdom have always been defenders of the internal market from which we have both benefited. We are both in favour of smart regulation. We are allies when it comes to defending the benefits of free trade, which our two countries have benefited significantly from. Our economies are very similar in profile and structure, although they are different in size. We have worked successfully to steer the EU towards our respective related interests. And there`s still a lot of work to be done.
Ireland and the United Kingdom are in favour of completing the internal market for services and we want the potential of the digital economy to be fully exploited at EU level. Membership has been very good for our trade relations.