Brexit Q&A: Permanent legal footing for commitment to no hard border

What does the deal says:

It says everything Ireland needed it to say.

The 500-page document formally states in clear terms that a commitment to no hard border without any “physical infrastructure” is now on a “permanent footing” legally and fully protects and underlines the retention of the Good Friday Agreement “in all its parts”.

 It also says an “ambitious” and “unique customs arrangement” that guarantees “unfettered” access between Northern Ireland and Britain without tariffs will continue, and that no Irish goods travelling through the UK to Europe will be blocked.

While the deal says the wording respects “the territorial integrity of the UK”, it also says the common travel area between the Republic, Northern Ireland and Britain will continue.

And crucially, it also says the deal will maintain “full alignment” with EU rules “unless and until” a new deal after the transition period ends on December 31, 2020.

There will be a “review mechanism” for a UK-wide customs union, but will not be “unilateral” — meaning Britain cannot cut and run in the future.

What was the reaction?

The EU and senior Irish Government sources said “it’s what we need”.

However, in the UK, hard-line Brexiteers and the DUP, whose 10 MPs are crucial to the Conservatives remaining in power, lashed the deal as the “worst” possible and risking making the UK an EU “slave state”. The DUP believes the North will still be treated differently to the rest of Britain, and because Brexiteers believe the UK could be trapped in a never-ending customs union — limiting Britain’s independence.

What happened next?

In a five-hour emergency cabinet meeting in London, UK prime minister Theresa May faced down opposition to force through the deal, saying the “collective” decision is to back it. However, it is far from clear how “collective” this claim is, with rumours 10 cabinet members opposed her and Ms May the subject of no confidence motion rumours last night.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar held a lengthy special cabinet meeting in Dublin yesterday morning to back the deal, while EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier also formally supported it last night.

So the deal is over the line?

You must be joking. While Ms May just about managed overcame the first hurdle, she must now convince her party, the DUP, and the rest of Westminster before a crucial parliamentary vote next month.

However, before then, she could face a no-confidence motion from her party.

If successful, this would throw the UK into either a snap election which would put the deal on hold or see a hard-line Brexiteer who has no intention of agreeing to the deal take over.

What happens now?

Ms May will go to Westminster today to face another “long, detailed and passionate debate” among MPs, and last night spoke with the DUP and Sinn Féin.

Mr Barnier will meet with UK Brexit secretary Dominic Raab in Brussels today.

This will clear the way for a special EU summit to formally agree the full deal on Sunday week.

And the deal?

For the moment, it is still in place. But with a British political civil war looming, the key words are “for the moment”.

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