Tuesday 17 July 2018

Brexit deal reached: No hard border for Ireland as 'sufficient progress' made on talks

  • Major breakthrough on Brexit deal that collapsed earlier this week
  • European Commission says 'sufficient progress made' in talks
  • Simon Coveney: 'We have secured assurances for all on the island of Ireland'
  • New deal means 'there is no red line down the Irish Sea' - DUP claims
Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier meet at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, December 8, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Vidal
Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier meet at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, December 8, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

Kevin Doyle and Shona Murray

THE European Commission has announced it is recommending to the European Council that "sufficient progress" has been made in the first phase of Brexit talks - which had initially floundered on the status of the Irish border.

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker  told a press conference in Brussels this morning that negotiations had been "difficult" for the EU and the UK.

But he said "we have the breakthrough we needed" and he is sure the EU27 will open Phase 2 of the Brexit talks.

British Prime Minister Theresa May arrived in Brussels early this morning and is set to finally sign up to the Brexit deal that dramatically broke down on Monday.

She said the Brexit deal was a "significant improvement" which had required give and take on both sides. The British Prime Minister confirmed the deal would ensure "no hard border" in Ireland. She said there will be "no barriers between north and south, east and west".

The major breakthrough has been made after a "tweaked text" aimed at getting the DUP to agree to a Border deal was passed back and forth across the Irish Sea overnight.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during a press conference at Government Buildings in Dublin following Brexit negotiations. Laura Hutton/PA Wire
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during a press conference at Government Buildings in Dublin following Brexit negotiations. Laura Hutton/PA Wire

A spokesperson for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: "We achieved all our goals in phase 1 of the negotiations, including preserving the CTA (Common Trade Area), protecting the GFA (Good Friday Agreement) and, crucially, obtaining a guarantee that there will be no hard border."

Tanaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said the agreement on the Irish border that assures Northern Ireland will remain aligned with the European Union's customs union and single market "puts a floor" under what is possible in negotiations on trade after Britain leaves the EU, Ireland's foreign minister said.

"What it means is any deal that is done has to be better than the default position, otherwise we won't be able to agree it," Simon Coveney told RTE Radio.

"I think what that does is, it puts a floor under what is possible in terms of the outcome that we can't fall below, so Ireland obviously has a huge interest in the phase two negotiations."

He said that one paragraph in the new deal had been added to assuage the concerns of the DUP.

"In all circumstances, the United Kingdom will continue to ensure the same unfettered access for Northern Ireland's businesses to the whole of the United Kingdom internal market," it reads.

Mr Coveney said the government was content at assurances it had achieved about avoiding a hard border. He said there was now "no scenario" that would result in new border checkpoints.

"Ireland supports Brexit negotiations moving to phase two now that we have secured assurances for all on the island of Ireland," he said.

He said the deal "fully protected" the Good Friday Agreement, the peace process and an all-Ireland economy.

Mr Juncker had discussed the situation with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Mrs May during separate phonecalls overnight.

He said that the decision on whether to move forward to talks on trade and the transition to a post-Brexit relationship was in the hands of the leaders of the 27 other EU nations, meeting in Brussels at a European Council summit on Thursday, but said he was "confident" they would do so.

The Commission president said: "I will always be sad about this development, but now we must start looking to the future, a future in which the UK will remain a close friend and ally."

Mrs May said that intensive talks over the past few days had delivered "a hard-won agreement in all our interests".

She said that the agreement would guarantee the rights of three million EU citizens in the UK "enshrined in UK law and enforced by British courts".

She said that it included a financial settlement which was "fair to the British taxpayer" and a guarantee that there will be "no hard border" between Northern Ireland and the Republic, preserving the "constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom".

She said that the agreement between the UK and the Commission, being published in a joint report, would offer "welcome certainty" to businesses.

Shortly before 6am, Mrs May arrived in Brussels with Brexit Secretary David Davis for a meeting with Mr Juncker and the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

European Council president Donald Tusk was also expected to make a statement on Brexit early on Friday morning.

DUP leader Arlene Foster has told Sky News there are "substantive changes" to the text after she and Mrs May spoke several times overnight.

This is significant because it was the intervention of the Democratic Unionist Party that stalled the talks earlier this week.

"We're pleased to see those change because for me it means there's no red line down the Irish Sea and we have the very clear confirmation that the entirety of the United Kingdom is leaving the European union, leaving the single market, leaving the customs union," Mrs Foster told Sky News.

"There are still matters there that we would have liked to have seen clarified, we ran out of time essentially, we think that we needed to go back again and talk about those matters but the prime minister has decided to go to Brussels in relation to this text."

The exact detail of the changes agreed will be of huge interest as they emerge in the coming hours.

The talks stalled last Monday after the DUP learned some details of the deal through the media, sparking a testy row with the UK government.

Under the terms of the negotiations being carried out under Article 50 of the EU treaties, the European Council must agree that sufficient progress has been made on the divorce issues of citizens' rights, the Irish border and the UK's financial settlement before talks can move on to the issues of trade and transition.

The publication of the joint report makes it all but certain that EU27 leaders will approve this step on Thursday, marking a significant step forward in the process leading towards UK withdrawal in March 2019.

It eases pressure on Mrs May, who was facing the prospect of businesses activating contingency plans to move staff and activities out of the UK if no progress had been made by the end of the year.

Mr Juncker cautioned: "The joint report is not the withdrawal agreement. That agreement needs to be drafted by the negotiators on the basis we have agreed yesterday and today and then approved by the Council and ratified by the UK Parliament and European Parliament."

He said that he and Mrs May had discussed the need for a transition period following the formal date of Brexit, and shared "a joint vision of a deep and close partnership".

"It is crucial for us all that we continue working closely together on issues such as trade, research, security and others," he said.

"We will take things one step at a time, starting with next week's European Council, but today I am hopeful that we are all moving towards the second phase of these challenging negotiations and we can do this jointly on the basis of renewed trust, determination and with the perspective of a renewed friendship."

Mrs May said that the negotiation process "hasn't been easy for either side".

"When we met on Monday, we said a deal was within reach," said the PM. "What we have arrived at today represents a significant improvement."

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