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As it happened: EU and UK agree no hard border on a 'very significant day for the island of Ireland'

Overnight negotiations found common ground between all sides at last.

AFTER A TUMULTUOUS week, we finally have a deal that will guarantee no hard border in Northern Ireland after the UK leaves the EU.

After the DUP earlier scuppered the first deal on Monday, we now have an agreement that appears to satisfy all sides.

After marathon, all-night talks with the DUP’s Arlene Foster, Theresa May headed for Brussels to meet EU chiefs to formally agree an arrangement.

Speaking afterwards, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar called it “a very significant day for everyone on the island of Ireland”.

This is how it all unfolded, from the announcement early this morning, to reaction from at home and abroad.

General Election 2017 aftermath PA Wire / PA Images PA Wire / PA Images / PA Images

After blocking the initial deal, the DUP’s Arlene Foster is claiming that she had seen to it that “substantive changes” were made to the original proposal.

She told Sky News: “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.”

So a soft border, but still leaving the single market and customs’ union?

It’ll be interesting to see how that’ll work.

How sure is it that a deal has been reached?

Juncker’s Chief of Staff tweeted this this morning.

grey smoke Martin Selmayr / Twitter Martin Selmayr / Twitter / Twitter

Jean Claude-Juncker is speaking.

He says that “sufficient progress has been made”.

Prime Minister May has assured him she has the backing of the UK government.

“Today is the result of a long and intense discussion,” he says.

Both sides had to listen to each other and show a willingness to compromise. This was a difficult negotiation for the EU as well as the UK.

“It had to be concluded today,” he adds.

The European Commission is now officially recommending that it can move on to the next phase of Brexit talks: the future of the EU-UK relationship and trade.

“With regard to the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, the UK acknowledges the unique situation on the island of Ireland and has made significant commitments to avoid a hard border,” it said in a statement.

On the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, and vice versa, Juncker says that “we bring back the certainty… rights will remain the same after the UK has left the European Union”.

He says the EU made it a priority to protect the peace process in Northern Ireland.

The Taoiseach has been kept informed of all the developments, he says.

“All of the EU27 stand firmly behind Ireland and the peace process.

We still have a lot of work to do.

Juncker says that the deal needs to be officially drafted up after agreements were made, and that it may need to be ratified by the UK parliament.

Theresa May speaking now.

“It hasn’t been easy for either side… What we’ve arrived at today is a significant improvement.

I believe the joint report being published is in the best interests of the whole UK. I look forward to moving on to the next phase.

She talks about a special relationship with the EU. She wants “clarity and certainty” for citizens and businesses.

The deal guarantees the rights of 3 million EU citizens in the UK. Their rights will be enshrined in UK law.

“They will live their lives as before.

This agreement is fair to the British taxpayer.

There will be NO hard border, says May.

She says that she’s been talking to unionists in Northern Ireland, and agreed with the Taoiseach to have no barriers.

“This deal delivers that,” she says.

May is asked how the deal will work in practicality for Northern Ireland, with no hard border.

She says the text of the deal doesn’t grant special status to Northern Ireland.

“The integrity” of Northern Ireland will be retained, she says.

Snap judgement on what was said?

Both May and Juncker said that there would be “no hard border” but little details on how that will actually work.

They were more sure on the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and vice versa, with guarantees to enshrine their rights in British and European law.

We’re hearing that An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, the Tánaiste, Simon Coveney, and the Minister for European Affairs, Helen Mc Entee will make statements on Phase I of the Brexit negotiations this morning.

Simon Coveney certainly sounds happy with the deal.

Here’s what he just tweeted: “Deal Confirmed! Ireland supports Brexit negotiations moving to Phase 2 now that we have secured assurances for all on the island of Ireland – fully protecting GFA, peace process, all-Island economy and ensuring that there can be NO HARD BORDER on the Island of Ireland post Brexit.”

The UK government has published a policy paper this morning on the joint stance between it and the EU.

And what does the text of that deal reached say about Ireland?

It says that: “The United Kingdom remains committed to protecting North-South cooperation and to its guarantee of avoiding a hard border. Any future arrangements must be compatible with these overarching requirements.

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 of the island of Ireland.

Coveney is on Morning Ireland.

He reaffirms he’s happy 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 an assurance.”

He says 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.

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

He says the new deal – changed from Monday – has a new paragraph ensuring that the UK will continue to provide the “same unfettered access for NI’s businesses to the whole of the UK internal market”.

Coveney explains that the UK government will ensure no barriers to trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

“If that had been in on Monday, we’d have agreed to it,” he says.

It’s put to him that it sounds very much like staying in the single market.

“That’s only if there’s no further deal,” Coveney says.

“I hope a lot of people and a lot of businesses will get a lot of relief from that wording,” Coveney says.

He stops short of saying Northern Ireland will stay in customs union and single market if no deal is reached.

It’s a “special alignment” as he puts it.

He says the British government has been “generous” in its position.

It had taken the stance of solving the border problems in Phase Two, but the Irish government stood firm and sought reassurances before it got that far, Coveney says.

We have a fall back position. There is no scenario of Brexit that will result in a hard border. We can say that this morning.

“We’re not going to sign up to something that doesn’t represent Ireland’s interests more appropriately than the default position,” Coveney says.

He keeps using the words of “alignment” when it comes to Northern Ireland in the customs union and single market.

So it’ll be aligned with it, but not in it? That’ll require some further explaining in the future.

For Irish passports holders in Northern Ireland, Coveney says their rights as EU citizens are guaranteed.

He’s now talking about the “land bridge” between the UK, Ireland and the EU, referencing how shipping freight usually arrives in Ireland from the UK.

It’s being “flagged up” now. That’ll be solved in Phase Two.

“In Phase Two now, we’ll have a specific Irish chapter as well,” Coveney says. “Before it can be finalised, we’ll have to deal with the Irish-specific issues in the same way.”

If you want to read that full agreement, by the way, it’s here.

They’re talking about this section now.

section 45

Coveney says it means that any Phase 2 deal will have to “respect the internal market”.

“We need to make sure that internal market that we’re part of isn’t undermined by a Brexit deal.

There can’t be a fuzzy situation where to avoid a hard border, we simply ignore trade is taking place.

But if Britain leaves the EU market, and Northern Ireland stays with the UK market, how can we have free trade with Northern Ireland?

Coveney says: “In the absence of an agreed negotiated outcome, they are guaranteeing that Northern Ireland’s regulatory environment will remain fully aligned with that of the internal market and customs union.

That’s the assurance we asked for, and we got. There can be no worse outcome than that. That could be some new customs union arrangement.

One more question for Coveney.

“Are you satisfied that this deal will see no one sent to man a border on this island?”

“Yes, I am,” he replies.

Regardless of how these negotiations go, there is a commitment and a guarantee that under no circumstances will we see a border.

We have a statement in from the DUP.

Here are the six things it says it’s had changed.


1. Northern Ireland will leave the European Union along with the rest of the United Kingdom.

2. Northern Ireland will leave the single market and the customs union along with the rest of the United Kingdom.

3. There will be no customs or trade border down the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

4. Northern Ireland will not be separated constitutionally, politically, economically or regulatory from the rest of the United Kingdom.

5. There will be no so-called ‘special status’ for Northern Ireland as demanded by Sinn Fein.

6. The report makes it clear that the UK remains committed to preserving the integrity of its internal market and Northern Ireland’s place within it, as it leaves the EU’s internal market and customs union.

The DUP said it “cautioned” Theresa May not to press ahead with the deal as it had existed before.

It says it will play a “full part” in Phase Two of negotiations.

“Along with like-mind colleagues across the House of Commons, we will ensure that there is no backsliding on the promises made about the integrity of the Union,” it said.

There are areas it says it still has concerns, however.

They want to know more about this “alignment” and what it means in relation to the single market and customs union.

EU Council President Donald Tusk is talking now.

He says he’s ready to negotiate a close EU-UK relationship on trade and foreign policy, and that clarity is needed on future relations.

He says today’s deal is a “personal success” for Theresa May.

“Breaking up is hard, but breaking up and building a new relationship is harder,” he says.

So much time has been devoted to the easier part of this task… we have de facto less than a year [to do the hard work]

Some people are never happy are they?

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon thinks that any special arrangements for Northern Ireland “must be available to other UK nations”.

It wouldn’t be fair to say we’ve overcome the hurdles so far as easily as this.

EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier is feeling hopeful here.

Before Leo Varadkar gives his press conference, we have a statement in from Labour’s Brendan Howlin.

Like Sturgeon, he says the “devil is in the detail” in future discussions.

He says: “A weak and divided British Government remains charged with squaring a very difficult circle in the months ahead.

Nevertheless progress has been made today and after a difficult start to the week that is welcome. Those involved on both sides are to be commended for work in this regard.

Look at all these happy faces.

Belgium Europe Brexit Eric Vidal / PA Images Eric Vidal / PA Images / PA Images

For a long time, it appeared that the UK’s divorce from the EU would remain acrimonious but there was a lot of conciliatory language today from both sides.

We expect to hear from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the next few minutes.

A lot of praise, publicly at least, for Theresa May from senior UK and EU politicians this morning.

Donald Tusk said today’s result was her “personal success”.

Some of her ministers have lined up to congratulate her, but it is likely that the hard-line Brexiteers in her own party will still not support the latest deal.

Some UK politicians are saying that it’s unsettling that the DUP had such influence on the final text of the deal.

Labour MP Tulip Siddiq has said the “most worrying part of the last week” was the UK government being “held to ransom by the DUP”.

Donald Tusk delivered that great line about breaking up earlier and he’s said it again.

He says we need to remember that “the most difficult challenge still [lies] ahead”.

A lot of love in HQ for Tusk this morning.

Still no sign of Varadkar yet. The press conference had originally being arranged for 8am.

My guess is that he’ll be wearing blue socks with yellow stars on them.

Here we go.

You can watch it yourself here:

MerrionStreetNews / YouTube

“Today is a very significant day for everyone on the island of Ireland,” Varadkar says.

He says we’ve had a satisfactory conclusion.

“The Irish issues were one of three critical areas,” he says.

We have the assurances and guarantees we need from the UK on the Irish issues. The parameters are set and they are good.

“This is not the end but it is the end of the beginning.”

Varadkar says the Good Friday Agreement is protected. Everyone born in Northern Ireland will have the right to be an Irish citizen, and thus a European citizen.

“British and Irish citizens will have the freedom to live in each others countries,” he says.

There will be no physical infrastructure, related checks or controls at the border.

There’s a few scenarios for how it could work.

A comprehensive trade deal is agreed or an alignment is achieved with the single market and customs union.

He reiterates the “unfettered access” for Northern Ireland to Britain.

“Northern Ireland and Britain will not drift apart,” he says.

“There will continue to be a distinct strand for Ireland in the Phase Two negotiations,” he says.

He wants continued cooperation – north and south.

He assures the unionist community that the Irish government are not trying to exploit the situation.

They are not using it as a way to try to advance a united Ireland, he says.

“We want reconciliation and respect to grow,” he says. He says the Good Friday Agreement has been the government’s guiding light in negotiations.

The Constitutional status of Northern Ireland is guaranteed in the deal, he says.

To nationalists in NI, Varadkar says he has protected their interests. “Your birthright has been protected,” he says.

You will never again be left behind by an Irish government.

He thanks his colleagues in government, department officials, Simon Coveney and Helen McEntee for their work. He thanks the opposition, the EU negotiators and his fellow heads of State.

“Their solidarity has been invaluable and beyond what we hoped for,” he says.

It’s a demonstration of why we’re in the EU, the Taoiseach says.

He tells the UK that he knows the Irish issue is on its agenda, but knows they have a lot more to sort out too.

“I can assure you of the continued friendship and continued support of the Irish government and people,” he says.

He’s speaking in Irish now, reiterating the main points of his speech.

Varadkar is asked if the guarantees “are politically bulletproof”.

He says they are and that they’re “cast iron”.

“We now need to move on to Phase Two,” he says, and that a complicated process lies ahead.

He says: “We got the guarantees and assurances we needed… we protected what we wanted to protect.”

He hasn’t spoke to Arlene Foster yet.

He says the changes to the deal from Monday are mainly stylistic, but the main change is paragraph 50.

Here it is again:


He says that he never wanted to see a border in the Irish Sea. He says this part will ensure Northern Ireland doesn’t drift apart from Britain.

Does this document signal a “soft Brexit”?

“That’s a matter for the UK,” Varadkar says.

“Our job is to protect our national interests.”

We’ll now get into a lot more detail. He says talk of “regulatory alignment” is helpful.

Unfettered free trade means you have to play by the same rules, the Taoiseach says. He says that’s the detail that will be got into in the months ahead.

“Things are moving in the right direction… It’s in our interest that the Brexit that does happen is as soft as it can be. I think we’re getting away from this binary hard or soft idea.

I think the British people will begin to see the sense of having the same arrangements.

It’s put to Varadkar that today’s deal is not legally binding, and that politicians could go back on their word.

“Speaking on behalf of Ireland and the EU, we will abide by this agreement,” he says.

He has no reason to believe the UK will back out of it either.

He’s also asked about anglo-Irish relations.

“Brexit by its nature has strained relations between Ireland and the UK. Our role now is to make sure we get through that and reestablish the close relationship we should have with British governments.”

He thinks that, in the months and years ahead, Britain will have no closer friend than Ireland because of today’s deal.

Why do we need an Irish strand in Phase Two of the talks?

Coveney fields this one.

“I think what this whole agreement about is trying to reassure people,” he says. “The fear was we wouldn’t be able to prevent [a hard border] in Phase Two negotiations.”

He says because of our relationship with UK being so interwoven, we need a specific Irish stream in Phase Two so our issues don’t get “lumped into the pot” with other trade issues.

He says Ireland has been one of the last things to be resolved in Phase One.

They’re asked now about freedom of movement and a transition arrangement.

Varadkar is confident there will be.

“That is something we support,” he says. “We want that transition phase so that individuals and businesses can plan ahead for long-term changes.

The detail of that is a matter for Phase 2.

He keeps reiterating that a lot of things need to wait till Phase Two to get the proper detail, and with a hint of frustration(?) as he says it.

General sense is that they’re happy to have got the border issue guaranteed but that there’s a lot more that needs to be done.

BREXIT DEAL 1495 Sam Boal / Sam Boal / /

Varadkar says that he wants to maintain free trade and you can only do it if you retain a fair and level playing field.

“That’s what regulatory alignment is all about,” he says. “In order for UK to have free trade with EU, there will need to be regulatory alignment.”

He references labour laws and food standards as examples where there will need to be regulatory alignment.

“One of the great things about being in the EU is that we do agree some things by majority,” he says.

When it comes to Brexit, we’ll need all 27 member states agreeing, he says.

Ireland’s objective for Phase Two is all about trade. He wants free trade to continue.

He also wants an adequate transition phase.

Varadkar references aviation, and how current arrangements should continue for passenger aircraft.

On Phase Two, Coveney adds that it’s an irony that after all of this what we want is something as close to the status quo as possible.

“Britain wants a very comprehensive, and very ambitious, trade arrangement with the EU. We want that too… the absence of trade barriers is good for Ireland,” the Tánaiste says.

Coveney says there are sensitive areas to work on in Phase Two, such as agriculture and fishing.

He thinks fishing will be very complicated. “Fishing negotiations at the best of times are complicated,” he says.

Ireland will be involved in all of that. We will work with Britain to try to find a way forward that everyone could agree with.

Varadkar is asked for clarity on “sectoral alignment” and what specific sectors will be included.

He says it’s going to be difficult to “square the circle”.

The Taoiseach wants a comprehensive deal, but one that isn’t very different from the status quo when it comes to trade.

In the absence of a trade agreement, Varadkar says that the UK doesn’t have to stay in the single market and customs union but must be “aligned” to the rules.

He says that the differences are not irreconcilable. In this “backstop” scenario, there will be a “special relationship” for Northern Ireland to ensure no barriers to trade.

But the DUP heralded the provision of “no special status” for Northern Ireland in its statement this morning.

We haven’t heard the last of that topic.

Varadkar is asked about Scotland, Wales or London asking for the same arrangement as Northern Ireland.

He says he’s not so sure about that but says that it shows that he got a “very good deal” for Northern Ireland.

He says historical divisions and tribal divisions aside, it must be recognised that this is a great result for Northern Ireland.

So there we go. That’s a wrap for the government’s press conference.

A brief recap:

  • Varadkar says we have a “cast iron” and “bulletproof” guarantee on no hard border.
  • He said it was a great deal for all parties, including unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland.
  • He was asked a lot about the details of what will happen, but said that these issues would be ironed out in Phase Two.
  • This “alignment” phrase is something we’re going to be hearing a lot of in the next few months. Varadkar said if you want free trade with the North and the rest of the UK, they’ll have to play by the rules.
  • The Irish government didn’t want to wait till Phase Two for border discussions and pushed hard for clarity now.
  • The EU stood behind Ireland all the way in its push for this, according to Varadkar.

That was a quick morning. I’m going to grab a coffee. While I’m gone, you can enjoy this take on Tusk’s break up line earlier.

The UK and EU: the toughest break up since…


UK Labour MP Stephen Doughty have this interesting take on all of this, telling the Guardian: “The only way that full alignment can be achieved is remaining in the customs union and single market.

It has been clear all along that you can’t have your cake and eat it in these negotiations. This is where reality bites. Perhaps now the absurdity of a no deal scenario and crashing out will finally be taken off the table by the Brextremists.

My colleague, Hayley Halpin, has written a great summary of what everything announced today in the Brexit deal means for Ireland and Northern Ireland.

You can read it here.

brexit deal ireland

Brexit Brian Lawless / PA Images Brian Lawless / PA Images / PA Images

It’s important to reiterate, the Taoiseach was keen to remind unionists that the government had “no hidden agenda” in the stance it had taken.

Varadkar said: “There is no question of us exploiting Brexit as a means of moving to a united Ireland without consent.

“We do not want to see a border in the Irish Sea, any more than we want to see a border between Newry and Dundalk or between Letterkenny and Derry.

We want to build bridges, not borders.

We’ve just got this analysis of the deal in from Davy Stockbrokers:

“This negates the risk to Ireland’s economic prospects of a ‘cliff-edge’ Brexit in March 2019 involving WTO tariffs.

“The UK has guaranteed that there will be no hard border in Ireland. However, to do so will require the UK to adhere to all EU single market rules, including tariffs — a bitter pill for backbench Conservative MPs.

The UK’s commitments appear to eliminate any room for Trade Secretary Liam Fox to negotiate free-trade agreements with third countries. This will no doubt trouble many backbench Conservative MPs. However, the text is still somewhat ambiguous.

The British-Irish Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, has given a warm welcome to the deal.

It said: “Businesses will be relieved by the commitment of the UK to avoid a hard border with Northern Ireland by maintaining full regulatory alignment with EU single market and customs union rules.

With Phase One of negotiations now complete, a swift start to talks on the future trading relationship is now crucial.

UK opposition politicians are, in some cases grudgingly, praising Prime Minister Theresa May for securing the deal, which they see as a softening of the previous Brexit stance.

London Mayor, and Labour politician, Sadiq Khan said that May had “done what is necessary”, but added that it shouldn’t have taken this long to get there.

He said: “The government need to now accelerate progress. We simply cannot afford further delays. I welcome the apparent u-turn from Theresa May on the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, and British citizens living in the EU.”

Khan added that the commitment to leave the customs union and single market, however, was “extremely disappointing”.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald was on Morning Ireland while Leo was talking.

She says that parts of the deal are welcome, but “we need to be careful at this juncture” not to miss a couple of important points.

She said that May and her government had been clear that the UK and Northern Ireland will leave the single market and customs union.

“That presents for us a real and present danger,” she said.

As Coveney said earlier, much of what will be of Irish interest in upcoming Phase Two negotiations will relate to agriculture.

In a statement, the Irish Farming Association President Joe Healy said that today’s deal was “an important outcome for the farming and food sector” here.

He noted the commitment to “north-south cooperation” and that the deal will “ensure no regulatory barriers develop between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom”.

“The transition and the final deal on trade will be crucial,” he added.

In the UK, Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said that today’s deal reduced the risk of a “catastrophic No Deal Brexit”. He added that British people, and not Tory MPs or the DUP, should get the final say on whether the deal is good enough.

No deal, eh? Amy O’Connor, formerly of this parish, had this take on how the Brexit negotiations may have played out.

Ardent Brexiteer Boris Johnson had stayed quiet thus far, but has just tweeted his own congratulations of May.

He said the UK now needed to remain “true” to the referendum result, by “taking back control of our laws, money and borders for the whole of the UK”.

Just how will this “alignment” reconcile with the UK and Northern Ireland leaving the customs union and single market? That’s the big question today.

The DUP are very confident they’ll be leaving it the same as the rest of the EU, but how will that be possible without a border?

It appears that, if no trade deal can be negotiated between the UK and the EU, we’re relying on the UK government’s guarantee that it will devise a solution.

An interesting line that may have been lost with everything else that’s in that deal.

If you lived in the UK but have moved elsewhere, you will retain the right to go back to live there for up to five years.

RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke show is on. He’ll have Minister Helen McEntee, and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin on shortly.

Requests to have a DUP spokesperson on were unsuccessful.

Minister McEntee on now.

She says it’s a “very good day for Ireland – north and south”.

What has changed since Monday? We have additional wording to clarify certain points.

She says amendments to paragraph 49, on the full alignment on single market and customs union even if there’s no deal, were made.

BREXIT DEAL 1495_90531454 Sam Boal / Sam Boal / /

She’s asked about Northern Ireland’s “unfettered access”. Will this apply to Republic of Ireland, as well?

In a no-deal scenario, north and south would have to have alignment in all areas of trade to ensure that trade can continue and no hard border would be brought in.

“This is what we’re talking about in Phase Two,” she says. “We want to see the closest possible relationship going forward.”

Is a soft Brexit now on the cards?

McEntee says that close trade links are desired but, even in a no-deal scenario, this close relationship will be retained.

McEntee says that two jurisdictions cannot apply different rules in this alignment scenario.

Using the example of the sale of poultry, the regulations concerning these matters would need to remain consistent between Ireland and the United Kingdom.

“I think there’s a huge amount of work that needs to be done, now,” she says. “It has been difficult so far. It has been challenging. When we put our minds to it, and we can agree… on the Irish issue.”

It’s going to be a very tight timeline to iron out the trade issues, she says.

Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen is on now.

He says it’s good news for all parties. The agreement reached doesn’t solve all the problems, but means we’re moving forward.

He said that to be locked into a system where the UK has to apply EU law on trade issues would be unacceptable, but that this would be ironed out.

“Let’s all welcome the fact that the 3 million EU citizens who want to make their future in post-Brexit Britain” have that security, he says.

He said that if someone living in the UK wanted to have a family member move over to live with them, they wouldn’t have to go stringent checks post-Brexit.

He thinks the Brexit divorce bill will be around £30-35 billion.

“The ultimate arbiter is that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” he says. Any deal could be derailed at the very last minute, Bridgen adds.

“If £35 billion is the price of UK freedom, that’s the price we’ll have to pay,” Bridgen says.

Here’s Micheál Martin now.

He says there a lot of contradictions in what has been said in the deal.

“There are a lot of irreconcilables,” he says.

The FF leader does welcome the deal, however.

“This puts more flesh on the bones with respect to that desire [for no hard border],” he says.

If you read between the tea leaves it looks like [a soft border] is where we’re heading.

He says Northern Ireland could get the best of both worlds in a Brexit scenario.

Irish Government Brian Lawless / PA Images Brian Lawless / PA Images / PA Images

He says new customs arrangement would most likely mirror the current customs union in a deal.

“The complexities are enormous for Britain to leave,” he says. “The implications are huge for businesses.

There’s a certain logic moving. In the interests of Britain, Europe and Ireland, the more we can accommodate a softer Brexit, the better it is all round.

Martin says we should understate the strong opinion in Britain that they don’t want a soft Brexit.

“We should be reaching out to the British public in an engaged manner,” he says.

He said this agreement would allow the substantive negotiations to commence.

“The interpretation of their government’s interpretation of full alignment may be different to our governments,” the FF leader says.

Martin says Theresa May has done really well to get this far given the internal strife in her own party, and the pressure she is under elsewhere.

He says so many jobs in Ireland depend on a good outcome in Phase Two negotiations.

He adds that he doesn’t obsesses about polls, after being asked about his party’s poor showing yesterday.

That strategic communications unit, eh?

The eagle-eyed TV3 political correspondent Gav Reilly spotted a few things a bit off with a picture shared on Twitter by Leo Varadkar this morning, ahead of his press conference.

It included having Leo’s “world’s best Taoiseach” mug in the shot, while Corkman Simon Coveney read yesterday’s Examiner.

Today’s deal is obviously great news for counties on the border, and Fine Gael TD for Donegal Joe McHugh says it is a “huge step forward” for the county.

He says: “Once again our Taoiseach referenced what this means to the people of Donegal – that there can no return to a border between Letterkenny and Derry.

This is a good day for Donegal. It is a good day for Derry, Tyrone and Fermanagh too where people have enjoyed the normality of life in recent years and now, thanks to this agreement, can continue to do so.

“Talks may have taken place in Brussels but they have huge implications for places like Bridgend, Lifford and Pettigo and people who live in all our regions can be much more confident about our future thanks to this agreement.”

How do you like this alignment?

The EU, with a stroke of very interesting timing, has just announced a new landmark trade deal with Japan.

Irish business group Ibec also has a statement. It welcomes the deal too, and says it provides “very important commitments” to ensure no hard border.

It says it’s encouraging to see it specifically referenced that Irish goods can transit smoothly through the UK.

Its CEO Danny McCoy says: “Today’s deal is a relief for business as it will allow vital trade talks to begin.

 This agreement must now inform wider trade talks and deliver an outcome that keeps trade barriers to an absolute minimum and protects jobs. Of course, huge uncertainty remains. The early agreement of an extended transition period would take some of the pressure off.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald said she will meet with Tánaiste Simon Coveney soon to discuss the morning’s events.

Her colleague, and leader of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill is set to speak to Theresa May later.

Coveney has been a busy man this morning.

He spoke to Adam Boulton on Sky News a little earlier.

He was asked if he felt guilty the Irish government “overbriefed what they’d achieved as a victory” and that angered the DUP, creating the difficult situation this week.

A combative Coveney retorted: “Clearly that’s a briefing you’ve been getting from the British side.

We never looked for, or claimed, any victory over anybody… Yes of course there’s been some friction.

Leaving the border talk till Phase Two would have been like “a jump into the dark”.

“We need basic reassurance that certain things will not happen when we move to Phase Two,” he said.

I’m off to grab a bit of lunch, and look up 17 different dictionary definitions for the word alignment.

I leave you in the very capable hands of my colleague Gráinne Ni Aodha.

Thanks Sean – Gráinne here taking over for a while. And if you’re looking for a lunch suggestion that also satisfies your Brexit needs…

Despite a deal being agreed between the EU and UK, there’s still a lot of confusion about what it means and what’s actually been resolved.

One Tory MP Owen Paterson said that today’s agreement was a “big improvement” and that the only problems that remained now were Clause 49 (or full alignment), the role of European Court of Justice, and money.

So “trade, laws and money?” as The Independent’s deputy political editor Rob Merrick quipped.

Theresa May has tweeted out this video snippet which compactly says what was agreed upon.

I’d say there are a few Brexiteers in May’s own camp that disagree with €45-55 billion being “a good financial deal for British taxpayers”.

As for the rights of EU citizens living in the EU being “enforced by British courts”, reports have indicated that European Court of Justice will have the final say on EU citizens’ rights after Brexit, but nothing definite has been confirmed.

The UK government want the ECJ to have as little oversight as possible, while the EU want it to enforce the rights of its citizens still resident in the UK after Brexit.

Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed – right?


If you’ve reached the conclusion after this week that the UK approach to this Brexit deal has been muddled and ill-informed, London Mayor Sadiq Khan would probably agree with you.

He’s just announced that he’s commissioned “independent economic analysis” of the effect Brexit will have on businesses and citizens, after the UK’s chief negotiator David Davis admitted yesterday that there were no Brexit impact reports, which is nothing short of mind boggling.

I’m off Liveblog duty for now – But Sean Murray is back to give you your latest Regulatory Alignment update.

Sean here, and I can confirm that I still don’t know what regulatory alignment will mean.

Breaking from the chorus of welcomes to the deal are Chartered Accountants Ireland, who have issued a statement calling for an injection of clarity to the Brexit talks.

They say “March 2019 is fast approaching and given how long it took to reach agreement on Phase One, we are very concerned that time is running out to reach agreement on the future trade relationship.

But businesses can’t work with false deadlines. If there is to be a transition period beyond March 2019 and in order make the exit date more manageable, this should be decided on as early as possible.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions are similarly unimpressed, and says that the voice of workers “must be heard and heeded” on Brexit.

Its head Patricia King says the deal requires “detailed analysis and consideration”.

She says trade unions believe that  “the best and most logical way to avoid such a hard border is for the UK as a whole to remain in both the single market and customs union”.

It seems to us that the text of this joint report also commits to this and Phase Two of the negotiations can now commence. It is in this phase that the parties will have to square this circle.

That phrase squaring the circle is cropping up a lot today, too.

Back to that divorce payment, and a spokesperson for Number 10 says that the expected €45-55 billion is a “fair settlement”.

“It seems to us that the text of this joint report also commits to this and Phase 2 of the negotiations can now commence. It is in this phase that the parties will have to square this circle,” they say.

The issue of UK citizens, and their future rights to go live in other European countries, has not yet been decided.

Responding to a question on the single market, the spokesman says: “We are leaving the single market and the customs union in March 2019. I will write it on a sign if you like.”

I think that’s a wrap for our liveblog, so I’ll leave you with this angry riposte from Nigel Farage.

“The whole thing is humiliating, we’ve collapsed on every level,” he says.

As this woman put it so well on Channel 4 News last week, “you can’t always have what you want in life”.

channel 4 brexit Channel 4 News Channel 4 News

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