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UK and EU agree Brexit deal after intense negotiations

The DUP has not signed up to support the deal.

Updated Oct 17th 2019, 1:10 PM

environment Boris Johnson will now have to bring his deal before parliament. Source: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire/PA Images

THE UK AND EU have agreed a new Brexit deal after intense negotiations, which UK prime minister Boris Johnson hailed as an agreement that “takes back control”.

The revised version of the Withdrawal Agreement was reached just in time for a crucial EU summit being held today and tomorrow.

The agreement, which was announced by Johnson and the EU this morning, comes after days of back-and-forth negotiations between the two sides. 

After weeks of speculation about a no-deal Brexit or a possible extension, Johnson will now present the deal to the House of Commons on Saturday for the approval of MPs.

The vote will prove crucial to determining if the UK leaves the EU on 31st of October, as Johnson has repeatedly promised. British parliamentarians voted three times against Theresa May’s deal, largely over objections to the backstop on Northern Ireland. 

If MPs do vote against it, Johnson may be forced to seek an extension, as mandated by the Benn Act – passed by MPs against the wishes of the government in September. 

Johnson will now hope that his new plan on Northern Ireland, which will see the region aligned to some EU rules but inside the UK customs territory, will prove acceptable to hardline Brexiteers in his own party. 

‘Certainty’

Michel Barnier, the EU’s Brexit negotiator, stressed the “certainty” the deal provided during a press conference this morning. 

“This agreement should provide legal certainty in every area where Brexit like any separation creates uncertainty and in particular and first and foremost for European citizens in the UK and British citizens living in one of our member states. These citizens have always been and will remain our priority,” he said. 

“Throughout these negotiations, the EU and the UK were fully committed to protecting peace and stability on the island of Ireland,” Barnier added.

“Discussions over the past days have at times been difficult, but we have delivered. And we have delivered together.”

Barnier said that he thought the deal could be ratified by the European Parliament and approved by the European Council before the 31 October – the day the UK is set to leave the EU. 

He added that Johnson had told President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker , that he had “confidence in his ability” to win the vote in the House of Commons. 

The deal comes after the DUP this morning rejected the revised agreement’s proposals for customs and Stormont consent. 

In a statement this afternoon, the DUP confirmed its opposition to the deal. 

“Following confirmation from the Prime Minister that he believes he has secured a “great new deal” with the European Union, the DUP will be unable to support these proposals in parliament,” the party said in a statement. 

Juncker called it a “fair and balanced” agreement. 

In a letter to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, Juncker wrote: “I believe it is high time to complete the withdrawal process and move on, as swiftly as possible, to the negotiation on the European Union’s future partnership with the United Kingdom”.

What’s changed?

The new deal will be discussed at the EU summit, before the rare Saturday sitting of parliament. 

The important differences are the arrangements to replace the backstop. 

Northern Ireland will remain aligned to a set of EU rules. On the issue of customs, there will still be a customs and regulatory border on the Irish sea. British authorities can apply tariffs to goods entering the UK , as long as goods entering Northern Ireland are not at risk of crossing the border and entering the single market. 

If goods are going to enter the single market by travelling across the border from the North across the border into Ireland, EU tariffs will be applied. 

The role of Stormont in deciding Northern Ireland’s regulations, one of the sticking points for the DUP, was described by Barnier as a “cornerstone of the newly agreed approach”. 

While more details are expected on the exact consent arrangements from the UK side, Barnier spelled out today what exactly the new deal means for Northern Ireland, which is set to be worst affected economically by Brexit. 

After four years of the agreement coming into force, a simple majority of the Northern Ireland Assembly will have to decide whether to continue or not with the customs and regulatory arrangements. 

This change will prevent the DUP using the petition of concern mechanism to veto the measures designed to avoid a hard border in Ireland – a decision that appears to have proven unacceptable to the Arlene Foster’s party. 

If the Assembly does reject the arrangement, there will be a two-year cooling off period, during which the UK and the EU would work on a new approach to customs and regulations. 

Barnier said that members of the Assembly every four years will “bear the responsibility of maintaining the system or breaking it off”.

“We now have to place trust in the system and those who will be managing it,” he said.

 Challenges

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn told Sky News this morning that his party will be voting against the deal. The agreement, he said, “doesn’t meet our demands or expectations”.

While Labour opposition was expected, gaining approval in the House of Commons could still prove difficult for Johnson, who does not currently have a majority. To do so, he may need to rely on the votes of former Tory MPs expelled from his party, as well as on some rebel Labour MPs.

It will prove particularly difficult as the DUP, which repeatedly defeated Theresa May’s attempts to pass a deal, said it would reject this latest deal. 

belgium-brussels-eu-brexit-press-conference In Brussels today, Michel Barnier said that Boris Johnson had told the EU that he was confident he could win a vote on the deal in the House of Commons. Source: Zheng Huansong/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

“The DUP has worked since the referendum result to secure a negotiated deal as we leave the European Union. We have been consistent that we will only ever consider supporting arrangements that are in Northern Ireland’s long-term economic and constitutional interests and protect the integrity of the Union,” the party said in a statement.

These proposals are not, in our view, beneficial to the economic well-being of Northern Ireland and they undermine the integrity of the Union. Our main route of trade on an East –West basis will be subject to rules of the European Union Customs Union, notwithstanding that Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK Customs territory.

Senior cabinet member Michael Gove, speaking to Sky News, said that the deal was not a betrayal of the DUP. “This is a great deal,” he said. 

Responding to the deal, leader of the Scottish National Party Nicola Sturgeon, said that the deal would “take Scotland out of the European Union, out of the single market and out of the customs union against the overwhelming democratic will of the people of Scotland”.

“This is not the future that I or my government envisage for Scotland,” she said. 

There will still be a transition period until the end of 2020 if the deal is passed this weekend. 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who has played a central role in the wider discussions over Brexit and the backstop, told reporters in Brussels today that the deal was a “good” one for Ireland. 

“The backstop has been replaced, it’s been replaced by a new solution for Northern Ireland, recognising its unique history and geography but that new solution does what we need it to do, avoids a hard border between north and south,” Varadkar said. 

“[It] protects the all-island economy, protects the single market and our place in it and also, and we were happy to accept this, takes account of the democratic wishes of the people of Northern Ireland,” he said. 

With reporting by Órla Ryan, Michelle Hennessy and Rónán Duffy

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