Brexit: Government 'got what it needed' to avoid hard border

Brexit: Government 'got what it needed' to avoid hard border
EU Minister Helen McEntee, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney

Latest: The Government has insisted it “got what it needed” in the draft Brexit text agreed in Brussels to avoid the return of a hard border, writes Daniel McConnell, Political Editor .

Speaking to the Irish Examiner as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste Simon Coveney and EU Minister Helen McEntee met to discuss the draft deal in Government Buildings, senior sources said they were content that the agreed text of the backstop respected the Irish position that no border on the island of Ireland would exist post Brexit.

Officially the Government was making no comment but sources close to the deal have said the Irish concerns are protected.

“It's what we need, there are still some moving parts and we need to see how this lands in London,” one source said.

“But we have seen things unravel before,” the source stressed in caution.

Given the false dawn earlier this month, Mr Varadkar and his Brexit team are cautious not to speak prematurely as they realise British Prime Minister Theresa May still needs to get it passed her Cabinet tomorrow at 2pm.

As news broke this afternoon that an agreement had been reached, it was made clear in London and in Dublin that a number of issues remained outstanding.

A spokesman for Mr Coveney insisted the Brexit negotiations were "ongoing".

"Negotiations between the EU and UK on a Withdrawal Agreement are ongoing and have not concluded," he said.

Negotiators are still engaged and a number of issues are outstanding. We are not commenting further on leaks in the media.

A spokesman for the Government has said "nothing has been confirmed".

"We're at a stage where there is still no agreement at this point in time," the spokesman said this afternoon.

"There is actually no agreement."

The comments were made following reports suggesting a deal had been agreed between EU and Irish negotiators.

The spokesman said a "number of issues were outstanding".

He also said the Irish Government's position on the backstop had not changed.

He added that at the moment the reports of a deal were "only speculation".

The Cabinet is to meet at 9.30am on Wednesday morning to “consider developments”.

In London, Mrs May was meeting with her minsterial colleagues, one by one, to discuss the agreed text ahead of a crunch full Cabinet meeting on Wednesday at 2pm.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the pro-Brexit European Research Group of Tory MPs, said the reported deal represented a betrayal of Theresa May's promise to maintain the integrity of the United Kingdom.

"White flags have gone up all over Whitehall. It is a betrayal of the Union," he told the BBC.

"If what we have heard is true, this fails to meet the Conservative Party manifesto and it fails to meet many of the commitments that the Prime Minister makes.

"It would keep us in the customs union and de facto the single market. This is the vassal state.

"It is a failure of the Government's negotiating position, it is a failure to deliver on Brexit and it is potentially dividing up the United Kingdom.

It is very hard to see any reason why the Cabinet should support Northern Ireland being ruled from Dublin.

Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson said he would vote against the deal, claiming it was "vassal state stuff" and urged the Cabinet to "chuck it out".

He told the BBC: "For the first time in a thousand years, this place, this Parliament, will not have a say over the laws that govern this country. It is a quite incredible state of affairs."

Earlier: Government calls reports of Brexit breakthrough ‘speculation’

The Government has dismissed reports of a breakthrough in the Brexit negotiations as “speculation”.

Brexit: Government 'got what it needed' to avoid hard border

A spokesperson for the Government said “no agreement” has been reached on the withdrawal of the UK from the EU and that “nothing had been confirmed”.

He said officials in Dublin had not been formally notified of a deal being reached in Brussels.

“We’re at a stage where there is still no agreement at this point in time,” the spokesman said on Tuesday evening.

There is actually no agreement. At the moment this is only speculation

The comments were made following reports this afternoon of a breakthrough in the talks between EU and UK negotiators.

The deal will be the focus of a crunch Cabinet meeting at Downing Street on Wednesday afternoon.

British Cabinet ministers were invited to read the papers relating to the draft deal on Tuesday night ahead of the special meeting of Theresa May’s senior team “to decide on next steps”.

The Government spokesperson described the situation as “fast-moving”.

He confirmed the Irish position on the backstop had not changed, adding that “a number of issues were outstanding”.

Brexit: Government 'got what it needed' to avoid hard border

In another sign that Dublin may not be happy, a spokesman for Tánaiste Simon Coveney said: “Negotiations between the EU and UK on a withdrawal agreement are ongoing and have not concluded.”

He also said a “number of issues are outstanding”, adding that negotiations were at an “extremely sensitive” juncture.

Members of Ireland’s opposition gave a cautious welcome to the reported deal.

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said any agreement needed to ensure there was “a permanent backstop to protect a borderless Ireland”.

Fianna Fail’s Brexit spokeswoman Lisa Chambers said the detail was important.

“We need to see the text, we need to see exactly what has been agreed, what are the implications for the border issue, for trade,” she said.

Ms Chambers added that a deal that included the UK staying within the customs union would be the best outcome for Ireland because east-west trade was “so important”.

Independent TD Thomas Pringle said he needed to see the details before commenting because it could have “potentially very negative effects for the border if it’s wrong”.

Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane said: “We’ve always said that the backstop and the insurance policy which has to be put in place for Ireland has to be long term, has to be durable, has to be permanent.

“It has to give protection to the people of Ireland that we need, which is to avoid a hardening of the border to protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts and to protect the rights of citizens.”

Earlier in the Dáil, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar would not comment on reports that a text had been agreed taking into account the Irish border question.

Minutes after reports of a deal emerged, Mr Varadkar would not answer questions from Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin or the Labour Party on the matter.

Brexit: Government 'got what it needed' to avoid hard border

Meanwhile, political leaders in Northern Ireland have given a cautious welcome to a deal being agreed in the Brexit negotiations.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood welcomed reports that the UK and EU had agreed a text on the border in Ireland, but he said any agreement must include a backstop.

Mr Eastwood said: “The SDLP are glad to hear that an agreement might have been reached and we look forward to reading the text of that agreement in detail.

“If the agreement involves a backstop that protects Ireland from a hard border then we would hope it will gain support in Westminster.”

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said there must not be any “ambiguity” about Northern Ireland’s place in a post-Brexit UK.

Mr Swann said the next 24 to 48 hours in the negotiations would set “the direction of travel for Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom for decades to come”.

“The bottom line for the Prime Minister, the Conservative Government and their partners in the DUP must be the achievement of a sensible deal which respects the result of the referendum and maintains the integrity of the United Kingdom,” he said.

“There must be no ambiguity, constructive or otherwise, in any deal about Northern Ireland’s place within the Union in a post-Brexit UK.

“To do otherwise would be a serious blow against the Belfast Agreement and the principle of consent and will set a dangerous precedent for the future.”

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said that the deal as reported would leave Northern Ireland “subject to the rules and laws set in Brussels with no democratic input or any say”.

He added: “We object to that on constitutional grounds that our laws would be made in Brussels, not in Westminster or Belfast.

“That is the fundamental red line.”

Mr Dodds added that any regulatory checks between the UK and Northern Ireland “would certainly be a breach of the PM’s pledges to the people of Northern Ireland (and) the pledges that she made to the people of the United Kingdom”.

Alliance Deputy Leader Stephen Farry described reports of an agreement as “encouraging” but he expressed “caution” on a number of grounds ahead of any publication of an agreed text.

“An open-ended backstop in place until or unless it is superseded is critical to protect the Good Friday Agreement and to avoid a hard border in Ireland,” Mr Farry said.

He added that it was important people were “measured” in their reaction to the backstop and do not contribute further to “unnecessary dramatising of something that should be seen in pragmatic terms”.

“Ultimately, the backstop is only an insurance approach to Brexit,” he said.

“There is no such thing as a good or sensible Brexit.”

- Press Association

Brexit: Government 'got what it needed' to avoid hard border

Earlier: Emergency cabinet meetings to be held tomorrow to discuss border deal

The Irish and British governments will hold emergency cabinet meetings on Wednesday to discuss the Brexit border deal amid growing hopes a crucial breakthrough has been reached, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Political Correspondent.

Government sources told the Irish Examiner this evening Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will hold the special cabinet meeting tomorrow morning.

His British counterpart, prime minister Theresa May, will hold a similar special cabinet meeting in London at 2pm tomorrow.

Brexit: Government 'got what it needed' to avoid hard border

And at the same time, EU ambassadors will meet in Brussels.

It is understood all three groups are meeting to discuss the exact legal text of the EU-UK deal negotiated in Brussels in recent days.

However, while Dublin and Brussels are likely to back the deal, it is far from clear if Ms May will be able to ensure the backing of her cabinet and the British parliament.

It is hoped that the make-up of the deal - which is expected to see one UK-wide customs union which will contain "deeper" details relating to Northern Ireland - could be backed by the DUP as it will not treat Northern Ireland differently.

However, it is unclear if a "review mechanism" for the UK-wide customs union deal will be enough to convince hardline Brexiteers in the Conservative party and its cabinet.

This is because of ongoing fears such a customs union could effectively trap Britain in a form of the EU without a specific timeframe for when it may be able to leave.

Earlier: Varadkar 'not aware' of Brexit developments; Coveney insists negotiations ongoing

The UK and the EU have reached an agreement on Brexit that avoids a hard border with the North.

It is reported the deal has been done on a "technical level" and negotiations are ongoing on the finer points of the text.

Brexit: Government 'got what it needed' to avoid hard border

The British Prime Minister will put the draft agreement to her cabinet at a meeting tomorrow afternoon.

UK government ministers have been called to individual meetings at Number 10 Downing Street for briefings with Theresa May.

News of the draft deal is a significant breakthrough and could pave the way for a November summit of EU leaders to endorse the text.

Here government sources are insisting they have not seen a proposed deal yet.

Brexit: Government 'got what it needed' to avoid hard border

In the Dáil this evening Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he's not aware of the latest developments.

He said that despite reports in the media he had not heard anything but made the point that he had been in the Dáil for several hours and so had not had the opportunity to speak with his officials.

A spokesperson for Tánaiste Simon Coveney said: "Negotiations between the EU and UK on a withdrawal agreement are ongoing and have not concluded."

The spokesperson added that negotiations were at a "sensitive" juncture.

Ahead of tomorrow's cabinet, a spokesperson for Downing street said: "Cabinet will meet at 2pm tomorrow to consider the draft agreement the negotiating teams have reached in Brussels and to decide on next steps.

"Cabinet ministers have been invited to read documentation ahead of that meeting."

Earlier: Brexit deal to prevent hard border has been reached

EU and UK negotiators have finally agreed on a Brexit deal to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland in a major move that is set to clear the way for an all-out agreement, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Political Correspondent.

Reports on Tuesday afternoon said officials in Brussels and London signed off on the legal text on Monday night after months of torturous negotiations over Britain's divorce from the continental bloc.

Brexit: Government 'got what it needed' to avoid hard border

While talks are continuing, it is understood negotiations on the Irish border have concluded with agreement on how a hard border can be prevented.

This, sources said, will be achieved by:

  • a UK-wide customs union agreement
  • a "deeper" deal within this agreement for Northern Ireland, with more specific deals on the province's customs and regulatory "aspects"
  • and a "review mechanism" for the Northern Ireland aspect of the deal

The shock announcement comes after months of increasing bickering and growing concerns a deal could not be reached due to the major stand-off over the issue.

However, while a legal text has now been agreed, it still must be passed by British prime minister Theresa May's split cabinet, the Democratic Unionist Party, the British parliament and the European parliament.

Brexit: Government 'got what it needed' to avoid hard border

Ms May is expected to call a special cabinet meeting later this week, at which point she will have to convince pro-Brexiteers the deal will not trap Britain in a customs union - and in effect the EU - indefinitely.

She will also have to convince pro-Remain cabinet members the deal is coherent and workable.

Similarly, Ms May will have to convince the DUP the deal will treat Northern Ireland in the same way as any other part of Britain, a move key to ensuring any deal can pass parliament where Ms May has a 13 seat space - on condition the 10 DUP MPs and other government members back her.

While the deal will also have to pass through the European parliament, it is likely this will prove less cumbersome - although it remains possible the British parliament vote could force a public vote.

Earlier: EU and UK agree on text for Irish border, reports

EU and UK negotiators have reportedly agreed on a text that would deal with the issue of the Irish border.

According to RTÉ News, the text was agreed last night and according to their sources it would involve one backstop in the form of a temporary UK-wide customs arrangement.

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