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Enda Kenny, Ireland’s prime minister, said that the Brexit talks should not distract the EU from pursuing priorities for further integration, notably completing the single market.

“It should not divert us from reaching the point in the future where we need to be,” he told the FT in the margins of a summit of European centre-right leaders in Malta.

“What Britain is looking for is a very close working relationship with the European Union in a new framework,” he said. “We support that strongly in Ireland and we will remain as a member of the 27 and negotiate these terms.”

He also said that continued cooperation on security policy was a shared priority of both sides in the talks:

“You have to have participation and cooperation in dealing with Europol…and terrorism,” he said.

Mr Kenny welcomed that the European Parliament has made preventing the imposition of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the republic one of its top priorities for the exit talks.

“The European Parliament recognises that we have got a unique set of circumstances here,” he said. “That border has very serious connotations because when it was in existence before it brought with it sectarian violence.”

“So we are not returning there, and the Irish government and the British government agree that we will not have a return to the border of the past, and that means that you have to be creative about dealing with what is a political challenge.”

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