Group Political Editor Kevin Doyle on how Varadkar ‘won’ and what it means for Ireland
The backstop is dead. Long live the backstop. They said it could never be done but Boris Johnson convinced the European Union to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement and scrap the backstop.
Yet Leo Varadkar was being paraded around Brussels last night like the boy who got straight As in his exams.
Brexit has made us all reassess how we look at politics and politicians.
A few weeks ago, the vast majority of people in this country would have prayed that Johnson 'got what's coming to him' in a general election. Today, the sensible thing would be for him to win a majority and 'get Brexit done'.
The deal is not everything we wanted but it's a close second. Red lines were firmly crossed out so that both sides get to claim victory.
For Varadkar, it's a moment in the sun. After staring into the abyss, we have crawled back to a situation where our key objective has been achieved: there will be no hard Border.
"It's not pretty compared to the last way of doing it but there's no hard Border," an Irish source said.
European leaders, including Michel Barnier and Donald Tusk, yesterday pointed back to that strange but timely meeting between Mr Varadkar and Mr Johnson in Cheshire last week.
When it seemed all hope was lost, the Taoiseach got on a jet to Liverpool and took a major risk by meeting the prime minister alone.
They talked through the various ideas and indeed the ramifications of no deal - a scenario that neither of them could sell politically.
"There was a real sureness that Leo could talk to Boris one on one," a source said, adding that while the EU wasn't talking to him through an earpiece, it was omnipresent throughout the talks.
Photographs were staged of the two leaders walking in the gardens and a joint statement said they'd found "a pathway" to a deal. The days of negotiations between the UK and the EU Taskforce that followed were more technical than political. Who could enjoy rewriting VAT rules?
But by the time Varadkar was on the dodgy Government Learjet to Brussels yesterday, the deal was done.
According to sources, the DUP's 6.50am statement did little to shake confidence on the Irish side.
"At 7am in Government Buildings, people were having their porridge and the jet took off with no turbulence," said one source.
A second was a bit more restrained: "The Taoiseach boarded the jet with a sense of trepidation. Would Boris stay true to his word and deliver a deal by the time they landed?
"An hour and a half later a phone pinged. It was a deal…"
The Irish team touched down ahead of the EU summit in the knowledge that we have been here before.
This deal is not outrageously different from the one that the DUP torpedoed in December 2017. But Boris Johnson is not Theresa May.
As former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern told Independent.ie yesterday, he's a "wheeler and dealer".
Johnson's ability to alienate those who are of no use to him is matched only by his ability to win over those who need to be led.
So the DUP may be out but his own hardline Brexiteers in the Conservative Party may be back in.
Will it be enough to get the agreement through Parliament? Even if it isn't, EU leaders sense Johnson will take this deal to the people during an election campaign next month.
And that is a massive leap from the letter he sent to European Council President Donald Tusk last August.
After taking over as PM, Johnson said he wanted the backstop gone because it was unacceptable to MPs and "simply unviable". He claimed it was "anti-democratic and inconsistent with the sovereignty of the UK as a state".
That was bad enough, but what really worried EU capitals was a paragraph in which the newly instated prime minister said he wanted to diverge greatly from EU rules.
"Although we will remain committed to world-class environment, product and labour standards, the laws and regulations to deliver them will potentially diverge from those of the EU.
"That is the point of our exit and our ability to enable this is central to our future democracy," Johnson wrote.
The wording was polite but it clearly signalled a 'race to the bottom' which "horrified" senior EU figures.
As part of the new deal, Johnson has agreed to 'level playing field' rules, which is a major victory for the rest of the EU.
So both sides caved and both sides compromised. Here's how:
The word that dominated political coverage for the past three years is now irrelevant. It was an 'insurance policy' but the Irish Government has accepted the UK will stop playing with matches.
Allowing it to be removed is a major concession by the EU.
EU single market
Ireland's place within the single market was threatened by a hard Brexit - but now it has been agreed that Northern Ireland will remain aligned with the EU for regulations on goods.
Checks and procedures on such goods will take place at ports and airports in Northern Ireland and not on the land Border.
EU customs union
Northern Ireland will exit the customs union along with the rest of the UK so it will be included in any future trade deals struck by the government after Brexit. However, the region will continue to follow EU customs rules. In simple terms, the Border has been shifted to the Irish Sea and most goods travelling between Great Britain and the North will be subject to checks if there is a risk they could end up in the Republic.
EU rules on value-added tax and excise duties will apply in Northern Ireland, with the UK responsible for their collection. There were concerns on the EU side that unless Johnson ceded ground on this issue, the UK could launch a string of new VAT rates that would cause all sorts of problems for cross-Border trade. Revenues derived will be retained by the UK. The UK will also be able to apply VAT exemptions and reduced rates in Northern Ireland that are applied in Ireland.
Boris Johnson's claim that the backstop was "anti-democratic" was initially seen as bluster in European circles - but as negotiations dragged on there was an understanding that he had a point. The initial UK demand was a vote in Stormont that would be decided using the 'petition of concern'. This would mean 30 or more MLAs would have had to back the 'special relationship' with the EU, effectively handing the DUP a veto. Ireland successfully argued that a 'simple majority' would be a fairer method.
The new arrangement will come into effect at the start of 2021 and, after an initial four-year period, Stormont Assembly members will vote on whether to continue to apply them. If the vote is carried, the arrangements will be extended for another four years.
If it transpires that a majority of unionists and a majority of nationalists do ultimately vote in favour of the move, then the extension period will be for eight years. If members vote to come out of the EU arrangements, there would be a two-year cooling-off period before that happened.