'We have found a solution to avoid a hard border in Ireland' - chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier
- UK and EU agree draft Brexit deal
- UK cabinet backs deal after five-hour meeting
- Brexit campaigners say May has surrendered to EU
Britain and the European Union have agreed a draft Brexit text, including a solution to the so-called backstop to prevent a return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
The draft deal says any such backstop arrangement, which would see Britain and the EU establishing a single customs territory, would be temporary and both sides would seek to secure a deal on a future relationship by Dec. 31, 2020, to ensure a backstop would not be necessary.
The EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, says that "it's clear Northern Ireland retains unfettered access to rest of UK."
Mr Barnier added that Northern Ireland would stay in the same customs territory as the rest of the UK, but Northern Ireland would remain aligned to some EU regulations to avoid a hard border".
The difficult issue in the talks was the Northern Irish 'backstop', an insurance policy to avoid a return to controls between the British province and EU-member Ireland which could threaten the 1998 peace accord which ended 30 years of violence.
The draft accord envisages a July 2020 decision on what would have to be done to safeguard an open Irish border after the post-Brexit transition runs its course if a new trade deal is not in place.
If not, Britain would have to extend the transition period once beyond December 2020, possibly until the end of 2021, or go into a customs arrangement that would cover all of the United Kingdom, but in which Northern Ireland would be aligned more closely with the EU's customs rules and production standards.
A UK government explanatory note on the deal said this meant that "there will be an option to avoid the backstop, even in the event that our future relationship is not complete and a temporary bridge is required".
"In those circumstances, whether it would be preferable for the backstop to come into effect for a temporary period, or to request a temporary extension of the implementation period, will be a sovereign choice for the UK Government."
It is unclear if that will pass muster in parliament.