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All eyes on Irish border as Brexit draft text to be finalised today

The draft will give a legal basis to last December’s preliminary agreement.

THE EU’S DRAFT of its Brexit ‘divorce agreement’ is set to be unveiled today.

The legal document will spell out the agreement reached last December on three key topics:

  • The fate of ex-pat citizens
  • The financial settlement of the break from Europe
  • The future of the Irish border.

It’s the Irish border that is perhaps the most sensitive of these three pillars.

The Guardian says that the European Commission will say in the draft today that “as a last resort to avoid a hard border, Northern Ireland would remain in the EU customs union and aligned to European single market rules”.

And RTÉ’s Tony Connelly reported last night that the report will reflect the ‘backstop’ option in December’s agreement between the UK and the EU.

Speaking yesterday in the Dáil, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that he was “satisfied” that the draft had resolved a number of issues, which were put to him by Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald. These included explicitly stating there would be no Brexit border on the island; protecting the Good Friday Agreement; and making it clear there will be no loss of rights for citizens.

Varadkar has already seen the draft agreement, which will be published at 12 noon today by Brussels.

Varadkar said, however, that he believes “we could have an interesting few weeks ahead of us”, as we “cannot automatically assume” the draft will be acceptable to the UK or all the parties in Northern Ireland.


The EU’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, had earlier acknowledged that the draft would “render operational” a controversial “backstop” opposed by London on the issue of how to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.

The fallback option says that if no better solution is found, Northern Ireland would remain in “full alignment” with the EU’s single market and customs union in order to uphold the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

“The Irish question cannot remain unresolved,” Barnier said.

After a meeting with Barnier, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said yesterday that “the Irish government and the task force are of one mind” ahead of the publication of the draft.

He said that the text “will be faithful and true to the political agreement that was made in December”, but added that the document itself will “be negotiated over time”.

“Our preference will be to try and solve a lot of the Irish border issues and Irish issues through option A which hopefully we will hear an awful lot more about on Friday from the British prime minister,” he said.

Theresa May is due to give a speech on Friday.

He said that they want to “translate into a clear legal language” a text that was agreed to politically before Christmas.

This ‘backstop’ facility was option C in last December’s joint report, and would see a commitment to no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland should the other two options fail, be ‘spelled out’ in the forthcoming draft legal text.

But this backstop is somewhat of a political headache for Theresa May, as if it comes into force it may anger the DUP – and May’s government depends on Arlene Foster’s support.

Yesterday, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson raised some ire when talking about the border issue, by comparing Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to the London boroughs of Camden and Westminster.

The UK may have made assurances that there will not be a border between Ireland and Northern Ireland after Brexit, but it hasn’t come up with a solution for it to leave the single market and customs union but not have border checks.

- Additional reporting  © AFP, 2018

Read: Varadkar and May speak by phone ahead of draft EU withdrawal document on Brexit>

Read: ‘Rank stupidity’: Boris Johnson under fire for comparing Irish border to crossing London boroughs>

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