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Taoiseach and Tánaiste to meet with officials tonight to assess draft text of Brexit proposal

UK Cabinet ministers are to be summoned to Downing Street this evening by Prime Minister Theresa May.

There won't be a hard border, according to the text that has been drafted
There won't be a hard border, according to the text that has been drafted
Image: Niall Carson/PA Images

Updated Nov 13th 2018, 7:00 PM

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR, Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Minister of State for European Affairs Helen McEntee are meeting with officials this evening to assess the state-of-play with the Brexit deal. 

Negotiators from the UK and the EU have reportedly reached an agreement that will see no hard border on the island of Ireland – but as of this evening the Irish government is maintaining that nothing has yet been confirmed. 

The backstop would come in the form of a temporary UK-wide customs arrangement, with specific rules for Northern Ireland, RTÉ reported

While the negotiations have not yet concluded, the text was “as stable as it can be”.

This text will also have a review mechanism. 

Cabinet ministers in the Irish government are on standby to attend a possible Cabinet meeting tomorrow. There is also a possibility another meeting could be held later in the week to consider the draft Brexit proposals. 

A government spokesperson said the situation is “fast-moving”.

However, it is understood that the Irish government’s position is that British ministers should be given time and space to consider the proposals. 

UK media outlets are reporting that ministers are set to be summoned to 10 Downing Street this evening to a see the latest Brexit draft text.

Ministers will speak to Prime Minister Theresa May one-on-one, Sky News reported.

If – and it remains a big if – her Cabinet agrees to sign off on such an arrangement it would clear a path for EU leaders to also give their approval to the deal later this month. 

Initially when the news broke that a deal on the border had been agreed, the Irish government appeared to be left in the dark.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said: “Negotiations between the EU and UK on a withdrawal agreement are ongoing and have not concluded. Negotiators are still engaged and a number of issues are outstanding. We are not commenting further on leaks in the media.”

This was later echoed by a government spokesperson, who said that “nothing has been confirmed at this point… there is still no agreement at this point in time”. 

“As far as I’m aware there are still a number of issues outstanding in the withdrawal agreement,” he said, adding that it is a “fast-moving” situation and that the Irish government is “very happy” with the representation of the European task force. 

It remains Ireland’s position that the backstop must apply “unless and until” it is superseded by other border-free agreements.

“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” he added. 

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Any such deal that may have been reached will have to be given consideration by the Cabinet, said the government spokesperson.

Explanation: What does all this mean? 

Nothing much, really.

Based on the reports, UK negotiators seem to have given in on leaving the Customs Union in favour of “a first cousin” of the EU’s rules, and the EU has given in on its demand for a Northern Ireland-specific backstop in order to reach a deal.

The EU had pledged to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland as part of its three main priorities in Brexit talks; in December 2017 it was agreed that this would be done through the backstop which would ensure “regulatory alignment” between the North and the Republic.

Brexiteers argued that the backstop wasn’t necessary to avoid a hard border, as they feared it would limit their trading abilities and “carve off” Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

In Theresa May’s much-criticised Chequers Plan, she pledged to leave the Customs Union in favour of “a new business friendly customs model with freedom to strike new trade deals around the world”.

It’s not clear whether the UK-wide customs deal reported tonight would limit the UK from striking up non-EU trade deals in the future. If it’s so close as to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, it probably would limit their options.

If Theresa May and her Cabinet are against the draft proposal agreed by their negotiators, we’re back to the threat of a no-deal Brexit.


Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon on the reports of a possible border deal, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he had been in the chamber for the last couple of hours, adding:

“So I haven’t spoken to my officials, or been able to speak to any of my officials in the last two hours or so.”

Earlier today, the EU Commission published a limited number of contingency plans in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

In it, it says the commission will “support Ireland in finding solutions addressing the specific challenges of Irish businesses” in such a scenario. 

With reporting from Christina Finn and Gráinne Ní Aodha

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Sean Murray

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