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soft brexit

Theresa May wins over her Cabinet on Brexit deal that Barnier says avoids hard border

The UK premier announced a speech after briefing her Cabinet on the latest Brexit deal draft.

LAST UPDATE | 14 Nov 2018

UK PRIME MINISTER Theresa May has said that her Cabinet has collectively decided to back her Brexit deal – the essential next step in attempts to secure an agreement with the European Union and avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.

The EU’s Michel Barnier said this evening that a solution has been found “to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland”.

He said that if both sides can’t decide on the next steps by July 2020, this backstop would kick in securing regulatory alignment between the North and the rest of the EU. 

May’s problems are not over, however, with rebels within her own Conservative party threatening to mutiny over the deal and the DUP almost certain to reject it.

She was due to meet DUP leader Arlene Foster this evening. 

May gave an address outside 10 Downing Street this afternoon after briefing her Cabinet on the Brexit deal agreed between British and EU negotiators in Brussels.

“This is a decisive step that should allow us to move on,” she said. “These decisions were not taken lightly.”

She said that the text of the Brexit deal that has been agreed between her government and the EU “delivers” on the result of the referendum and was the only choice when everything is stripped away.

“I know there will be difficult days ahead,” the Prime Minister said. “This is a decision that will come under intense scrutiny.”

May said she would address parliament on the 500-page text tomorrow.

She added: “I firmly believe – with my head and my heart – that this is a decision in the best interests of all the United Kingdom.”

A Brexit deal has been put on hold for weeks because the UK and EU couldn’t agree to a backstop that would both satisfy the UK’s aim to strike up free trade deals with non-EU countries, and the EU’s pledge to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The deal

Published this evening, the agreement will see the establishment of “ambitious customs arrangements that build on the single customs territory”.

The text recognises and affirms the Good Friday Agreement and that it “should be protected in all its parts”, and guarantees the avoidance of a hard border on the island of Ireland. 

Until a future relationship is established a “single customs territory” between the EU and the UK will be in effect. 

Essentially, the backstop agreed will maintain “full alignment with those rules of the [European] Union’s internal market and the customs union which… support North-South cooperation, all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement, to apply unless and until an alternative arrangement agreed”.

This backstop will apply “unless and until they are superseded, in whole or in part, by a subsequent agreement”. 

Both sides want to get any future deal over the line by the end of 2020 but, until then, this backstop would take effect.

May has been briefing her ministers on the current deal to see if it has enough support to be put before the House of Commons for a vote. 

The DUP leader Arlene Foster said she still hasn’t seen the draft text, but has warned there will be consequences from any announcement May made about the deal.

The party will be irate at the provisions of the deal, and this feeling will be shared by hard Brexiteers as the agreement keeps the UK tied to a backstop with the EU. 

EU reaction

Speaking this evening, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said that citizens’ rights had always been a common priority, and this agreement secures these rights.

“All of these people will be able to continue to live their lives as before – to live there, study there and to be joined by their families there throughout their lifetime,” he said.

Barnier added the agreement was a “decisive and crucial step”.

Last night, the Taoiseach, Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Minister of State for European Affairs Helen McEntee met with officials to assess the state-of-play ahead of this morning’s cabinet meeting to update government colleagues on developments.

The Taoiseach told the Dáil today that the Irish government was holding back on making any statements about the proposal until the UK government had decided how it viewed what was being suggested.

With reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha

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