no hard border

This is what the Brexit deal means for Ireland and Northern Ireland

There will be NO hard border.

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 – but what does this mean for Ireland?

Speaking at a press conference in Brussels this morning, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that negotiations had been “difficult” for the UK and the EU.

However, he said that “we have the breakthrough we needed” and is positive the EU27 will open Phase 2 of Brexit talks.

Also speaking this morning, British Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed there would be “no hard border” and that “the integrity” of Northern Ireland will be retained.

So, what does the deal that has been reached say about Ireland and Northern Ireland? 

This morning’s publication of the joint report confirms that it’s all but certain that EU27 leaders will accept and approve the agreement on Thursday. This will mark a significant step forward in months of tense negotiations to make it possible for UK withdrawal in March 2019.

The new text confirms that the Good Friday Agreement reached on 10 April 1998 must be protected in all its parts.

It reads:

The United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union presents a significant and unique challenge in relation to the island of Ireland. The United Kingdom recalls its commitment to protecting the operation of the 1998 Agreement, including its subsequent implementation agreements and arrangements, and to the effective operation of each of the institutions and bodies established under them.

The text says that the UK remains committed to protecting North-South cooperation to its guarantee of avoiding a hard border.

The United Kingdom’s intention is to achieve these objectives through the overall EU-UK relationship. Should this not be possible, the United Kingdom will propose specific solutions to address the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland.

The issue of Northern Ireland remaining within the EU’s customs union and internal market has been somewhat of a sticking point in crunch talks over the past few weeks.

However, it’s clear this morning that the EU and UK have agreed to work together to retain the current customs union status of Northern Ireland, while the rest of the UK departs.

Both parties will establish mechanisms to ensure the implementation and oversight of any specific arrangement to safeguard the integrity of the EU internal market and the customs union.

The EU and UK have agreed to maintain the Good Friday Agreement’s recognition that the birthright of all people of Northern Ireland to choose to be Irish or British or both and be accepted as such.

The people of Northern Ireland who are Irish citizens will continue to enjoy their rights as EU citizens, including where they reside in Northern Ireland.

The Brexit agreement will respect the opportunity and identity that comes with European Union citizenship. The next phase of negotiations will examine arrangements required to give effect to the access to their EU rights, opportunities and benefits.

Following on from this, the text confirms that the EU and UK will agree that Britain and Ireland will continue to make arrangements between themselves in regards to the movement of people between their territories – the Common Travel Area.

The United Kingdom confirms and accepts that the Common Travel Area and associated rights and privileges can continue to operate without affecting Ireland’s obligations under Union law, in particular with respect to free movement for EU citizens.

If a final agreement is not reached between the UK and EU, the UK has agreed it will maintain “full alignment” with the rules of the customs union and internal market which support North-South cooperation.

In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the internal market and the customs union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.

The text also outlines that, in the absence of an agreement, the UK will take the following steps:

The United Kingdom will ensure that no new regulatory barriers develop between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, unless, consistent with the 1998 Agreement, the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly agree that distinct arrangements are appropriate for Northern Ireland.
In all circumstance, the United Kingdom will continue to ensure the same unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s business to the whole of the United Kingdom internal market.

The text’s mention of Ireland and the UK wrapped up noting Ireland’s involvement in Phase 2 of negotiations.

It says that, given the specific nature of issues related to Ireland and Northern Ireland, both parties agree that the next phase will continue to address issues arising from Ireland’s unique geographical situation, including the transit of goods to and from Ireland via the UK.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney expressed his satisfaction with the deal.

“We want to be able to assure people – North and South – that there will not be the reemergence of a border again… We made it clear we couldn’t move onto Phase 2. We needed assurance,” Coveney said.

He said that the UK will be able to negotiate a new trade relationship that will solve the border issues.

“If that isn’t possible, this language says very clearly that the British government will put forward bespoke solutions to solve the unique Irish challenges,” he said.

“There will be in no circumstance a need to reintroduce border checks… This is something we’ve insisted on.”

Read: Liveblog: ‘There will be NO hard border’: Brexit deal reached

More: ‘No white smoke’ as Theresa May to make fresh offer on Irish border

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