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Dublin: 13 °C Sunday 21 July, 2019

Brexit breakthrough announcement expected as UK 'concedes' on border issues

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is expected to make a statement at Government Buildings.

A mock customs checkpoint set up on the Irish border earlier this year.
A mock customs checkpoint set up on the Irish border earlier this year.
Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Updated at 3pm

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR is due to make a statement on a major development in the Brexit negotiations.

London is expected to concede that there will be no “regulatory divergence” relating to the single market and customs union between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

The announcement, which he is to make alongside Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, was scheduled for 2.30pm. It has since been postponed, however.

RTÉ is reporting that the press event has been postponed because the Government has not yet been given a notification from Brussels, where British Prime Minister Theresa May is meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Reporters were briefly allowed into the reception area at the front of Government Buildings, but have since been asked to step back outside to the street. A revised time for Varadkar’s statement is yet to be confirmed.

Border deal 

The UK concession to EU negotiators means there will be no divergence of the rules covering the EU single market and customs union on the island of Ireland post Brexit, according to reports this afternoon.

A series of meetings have been taking place today in Government Buildings to decide a wording on the Irish issues affected by Brexit, and events have been gathering pace this afternoon.

A special Cabinet meeting was held this morning, and Varadkar met with party leaders at lunchtime today in advance of his planned announcement.

Meanwhile, in a statement in Belfast, DUP leader Arlene Foster claimed in the wake of this afternoon’s reports that the Irish government is “seeking to unilaterally change that Belfast Agreement”.

Foster said:

We have been very clear. Northern Ireland must leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom. We will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the United Kingdom. The economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom will not be compromised in any way.

Agreement between Dublin and London on the border issue is required for Brexit negotiations to progress onto crucial trade matters following a special EU summit next week.

May has been holding a lunch meeting with Juncker. She will also sit down with European Commission president Donald Tusk later.

Tusk earlier tweeted a deal was close (paraphrasing a Boomtown Rats hit in the process):

On Friday, Tusk said that the EU will not accept Britain’s offer if Dublin is not satisfied with proposals for future border arrangements.

Speaking this morning, Coveney said that no such proposals had yet been agreed.

“There was progress made between the two negotiating teams on Thursday and we were looking at draft texts and that’s continued into the weekend,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

“We’re trying to deal with issues that are very important to us and we believe essential for the island of Ireland as a whole. There’s this very difficult issue of getting wording that both sides can agree on in preventing a hard border.”

Nobody wants a hard border on this island but our fear would be that it would be an unintended consequence because people can’t find a way of resolving that issue in the future and we cannot allow that.

Later giving an update on RTÉ’s News at One, Coveney said that they were at a “much better place now than we have been in Brexit negotiations at any point to date”.

He also hinted that there would be no hard border on the island of Ireland, when he said:

I suspect the border will look much like what it looks today. We have language now that gives us the safeguards we need and reassurance that hard border will not re-emerge.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme, Ireland’s Minister for European Affairs Helen McEntee said progress had been made.

“I certainly think we are making progress, a huge amount of work has been done over the weekend. Officials have been meeting throughout the weekend and late into the night,” she said.

Unfortunately I don’t think we will have a final text that we can approve. However, for us there are a number of key issues that we have wanted to see progress on that I know progress has been made over the weekend.

Sticking point

The UK is keen to move on to trade issues, but the Irish border has proved to be the main sticking point preventing this.

Worries that the return of checkpoints could reignite the sectarian divisions that led to decades of conflict in the North have led to calls for London to come up with a way to avoid a hard border.

With reporting from - © AFP, 2017, Rónán Duffy, Daragh Brophy and Christina Finn 

Read: Senior Conservative says Ireland’s Brexit strategy is because of Frances Fitzgerald controversy

Read: From the Commons to ‘little England’, Brexit has put the Irish border firmly on the UK map

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Cormac Fitzgerald

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