Sunday 25 August 2019

Explainer: Have we made any new progress on Brexit and the Irish border?

Theresa May, pictured in Northern Ireland with DUP leader Arlene Foster (Clodagh Kilcoyne/PA)
Theresa May, pictured in Northern Ireland with DUP leader Arlene Foster (Clodagh Kilcoyne/PA)
State talks: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon and Chief Minister of Jersey John Le Fondre at the British-Irish Council’s summit on the Isle of Man. Photo: PA
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (Photo by Martti Kainulainen / Lehtikuva / AFP)
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

DUP leader Arlene Foster said yesterday her party has "only one red line" which is that Northern Ireland cannot be distanced from their "precious union".

At the same time, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said this week: "We haven't had many red lines in these negotiations, but one we have had is that we must have a legal guarantee that a hard border will not emerge on the island of Ireland."

As the clock ticks on towards a 'no deal' scenario, British Prime Minister Theresa May appears unable to make those red lines meet. Foster and Varadkar can't both get their way, which means the prime minister must decide who she needs more.

Did we make any new progress on Brexit this week?

This was hyped as the week we would finally see the UK's withdrawal agreement. What happened?

Theresa May pulled back from briefing her cabinet on the full plan because she is still unsure it will approve. She needs ministers to back it or the country could be heading for a 'no deal' scenario and possibly a general election.

Had they reached a compromise on the Irish Border question?

The EU has conceded to the idea of a UK-wide customs arrangement rather than one that applies exclusively to the North. However, the Irish Government insists a 'backstop' for the North must also be agreed in case the UK leaves the customs arrangement at some stage. Mrs May admitted this could see the North operate under different regulatory rules.

But the DUP made it clear a year ago that it wouldn't tolerate any regulatory divergence from the rest of the UK?

DUP leader Arlene Foster has been consistent in saying any deal to maintain frictionless trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic cannot lead to checks on the Irish Sea.

Can Theresa May just ignore the DUP?

Any deal will have to be passed in the UK Parliament, which means the PM needs to count her numbers carefully. Ideally, she needs the DUP's 10 MPs on board.

Will a 'review mechanism' help Theresa May get this over the line?

The PM rang Leo Varadkar to ask if he would be open to including an exit clause in the 'backstop'.

He agreed to look at the idea - but made it clear the backstop must be in place "unless and until" a better arrangement is devised.

Irish Independent

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