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Brexit breakthrough: The three potential snags that remain

By John Downing

The Brexit deal has many advantages for Ireland north and south. It is a big win for the Irish negotiating team. But can it be that simple? What are the potential snags?

Potential Snag 1:

Arlene Foster’s Democratic Unionist Party almost scuppered an EU-UK deal to avoid border checks on the island of Ireland after Brexit happens on March 29, 2019.

The DUP feared Northern Ireland was really not leaving the EU along with England, Scotland and Wales. EU special status for Northern Ireland also raised fears about trade with the rest of Britain via a “border down the Irish Sea”.

Now there were extra assurances granted on Northern Ireland's future access to and links with Britain. The Dublin Government say they have no problems with that.

Arlene Foster said they still wanted even more reassurances. But she did give it a guarded blessing. “For me it means that there is no red line down the Irish Sea,” Ms Foster said.

“There will be no so-called 'special status' for Northern Ireland as demanded by Sinn Fein," she added.

Like the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and the 2006 St Andrews Agreement there is enough play in the wording to allow both sides to claim wins. That risks future rows.

Potential Snag 2:

Watch the rampant Brexit camp among the British Conservatives.

The special treatment for Northern Ireland – which allows it mimic EU single market and customs union rules – is signalled to apply to the rest of the United Kingdom.

The key phrase here is “regulatory alignment.”  A leading Conservative, Theresa Villiers, who is a former Northern Ireland Secretary and a fervent Brexiteer, said these were “difficult words.”

Already Brexiteers say that this is the UK nominally leaving the EU but retaining the membership features which restricted it. We will hear more.

Potential Snag 3:

This is a breakthrough – but it is only a start. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has described it as “the end of the beginning.”

Next up is the real challenge: framing a post Brexit EU-UK trade deal. This border deal merely opens the way for those talks.

The threat of tariffs for Irish trade with Britain remains.

The Irish Government appear in very good shape going into this new phase of the talks.

But time is very short with a full deal required before the end of 2018.

Irish Independent

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