by Frank Schnittger
Fri Dec 8th, 2017 at 12:09:45 PM EST
Brexit deal: Main points
The European Commission is to recommend to EU leaders that Brexit talks with the UK move on to the second phase after it deemed "sufficient progress" had been made, including a deal aimed at preventing a hard border in Ireland.
Below are the main points of the new agreement.
- The agreement promises to ensure there will be no hard border - including any physical infrastructure or related checks and controls - and to uphold the Belfast Agreement in all its parts.
- It makes clear the whole of the UK, including Northern Ireland, will be leaving the customs union.
- It leaves unclear how an open border will be achieved but says in the absence of a later agreement, the UK will ensure "full alignment" with the rules of the customs union and single market that uphold the Belfast Agreement.
- However, the concession secured by the DUP is that no new regulatory barriers will be allowed between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK without the permission of Stormont in the interest of upholding the Belfast [Good Friday] Agreement.
The agreement also covers the rights of EU citizens in the UK and the UK contribution to the EU Budget and outstanding liabilities. The full text is available here. For the purposes of this story, I will limit comment to the section relating to Ireland and N. Ireland.
Reactions to the deal in Ireland have generally been positive:
Mr Varadkar said under the text of this deal "every person in Northern Ireland has the right to Irish and EU citizenship. All they have to do is exercise the right to Irish and EU citizenship."
"This agreement gives Northern Ireland unfettered access to the UK, there will be no new barriers between Northern Ireland the UK unless wanted."
He said Northern Ireland and the UK "will not drift apart".
The text of the new agreement, which has been the subject of intense negotiations since Monday, sets out six commitments in relation to the Island of Ireland.
It says the UK will "maintain full alignment" with EU single market, customs unions rules that support peace, co-operation and economy on the island of Ireland.
In a move which will be welcomed by Irish businesses, the text also says that the next phase of the talks will also address issues arising from "Ireland's unique geographical situation", including the transit of Irish goods through the UK to markets in Continental Europe.
The reaction of the DUP has been more mixed:
However, the Democratic Unionist Party, whose opposition on Monday led to talks breaking down, said "more work" needed to be done and added how it voted on the final deal would "depend on its contents". The party supports Ms's May's government in Westminster. On the insistence of the DUP, the deal says there will be no new customs barriers in future between the North and the rest of the UK.
The Taoiseach said he wanted to assure unionists of his motivations. "There is no question of us trying to exploit Brexit to move toward Irish unity without consent," he said.
If it does not prove possible for the UK to reach agreement on regulatory alignment with the EU, "we will look to the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland, " Ms May told journalists at a press conference in Brussels.
So there is still the possibility of some divergence between N. Ireland and Great Britain, subject the the agreement of the Ireland Executive and Assembly a under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. This will put some pressure on the DUP and Sinn Fein to actually agree the formation of a N. Ireland Executive.
Article 56 of the agreement provides for a separate strand of the Phase 2 Brexit talks to consider issues distinct to Ireland. This addresses the Irish government's concern that Irish issues will fade into the background and might otherwise receive little attention once the main Phase 2 Trade and transition talks between the UK and EU27 get under way.
Contrary to the assertions of UK "extreme Brexiteer", Brendan O'Neill, Irish people are generally under no illusions that Irish concerns will be centre stage once phase 2 of the Brexit negotiations get under way:
I spent much of my youth asking the British government to butt out of Irish affairs. "Hands off Ireland!", the placards said on our long, lonely marches round Westminster.
Now I find myself in the weird position of pleading with Ireland to stop meddling in British affairs.
"Hands off Brexit!", I want to say to the Dublin political set that has let itself be used as leverage by the EU in its war against the British vote for Leave.
The enthusiasm with which Irish politicians have marched to the EU's tune on Brexit and the border is embarrassing.
The excitable grin on Leo Varadkar's face in every photo of him with Donald Tusk brings to mind the school square overawed that a popular jock said "hi" to him in the hall.
Some in the Irish political class have been made all aflutter by the love-bombing from Brussels. "The EU is fully behind you", said Tusk to the Taoiseach, making Dublin 4 swoon.
It isn't hard to see why Irish politicians have gleefully signed up for the role of albatross around the neck of Brexit that Brussels has written for them.
It has propelled them on to the world stage. It allows them to rise above the latest scandal blighting Irish political life and to appear temporarily statesmanlike.
And yet they're still wrong to cosy up with Brussels. First, because you are being used not to iron out the border issue, but to dent democracy across the Irish Sea.
And secondly - and this really cannot be said often enough - the EU is not your friend. And it will drop you like a bad habit when it becomes convenient to do so.
What looks like Brussels love is really an expedient exploitation of Irish concerns to try to weaken British democracy.
Given that the UK has generally regarded Ireland as its own back yard where it can do what it wants, such concerns are a bit rich. It so happens, as I have argued in previous posts, that Irish and EU interests are aligned on this issue, and without the active and welcome support of the EU we would not have made the progress in these talks that has now been made.