Belfast Telegraph

Brexit deal protects Union, says Downing Street as Barnier insists Northern Ireland peace matters

PM says deal 'great' while DUP remains opposed

Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

A Brexit deal has been agreed between the EU and the UK.

The announcement came as the PM was heading for a crunch EU summit in Brussels and follows days of intense negotiations.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: "We’ve got a great new deal that takes back control — now Parliament should get Brexit done on Saturday so we can move on to other priorities like the cost of living, the NHS, violent crime and our environment."

Mr Johnson added: "We will leave the EU's customs union as one United Kingdom and be able to strike trade deals all around the world."

His spokeswoman said the deal agreed with the European Union "protects the union".

"It is the best way forward for the UK. It is a deal that will take us out of the EU on October 31 and delivers for the country."

The Number 10 spokeswoman added that "today is a significant moment".

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves the back of Downing Street, London, on his way to Brussels for the European Council Summit. Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire

However, she said she did not know if the Conservative Party leader had held further talks with the DUP after the flagged concerns regarding the terms of the exit deal.

"The PM has been in regular contact with the DUP," she said.

"I don't actually know if he spoke to them this morning but he has certainly been speaking to them regularly in recent days."

She said she "didn't ask him" whether he managed to go to bed last night, amid the late-night negotiations with Brussels.

It is a really exciting day today. Jacob Rees-Mogg

EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker described the deal as "fair and balanced" and it was "time to move on as swiftly as possible".

Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said the deal gave "legal certainty" to Brexit.

"Since day one, what really matters is the people, the people of Northern Ireland, what matters is peace," he told a news conference.

Secretary of State Julian Smith said the deal was "in the interests of Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK".

"We need everyone to get behind this deal to avoid no deal & move to next chapter," he tweeted.

It comes after the DUP said it could not support the deal brokered by Mr Johnson.

The DUP has expressed concerns with the terms, including provisions on customs, consent and VAT.

“The Prime Minister has done a fine job in freeing this country,” Jacob Rees-Mogg told the Commons.

"It delivers on the referendum result it is a really exciting day today, I hope my friends in the DUP will have comfort and support."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was quick to dismiss the deal.

"From what we know, it seems the Prime Minister has negotiated an even worse deal than Theresa May's, which was overwhelmingly rejected," he said.

"These proposals risk triggering a race to the bottom on rights and protections: putting food safety at risk, cutting environmental standards and workers' rights, and opening up our NHS to a takeover by US private corporations.

"This sell-out deal won't bring the country together and should be rejected. The best way to get Brexit sorted is to give the people the final say in a public vote."

The deal still has to go before parliament - which is to sit on Saturday - to ratify the agreement.

The revised protocol on Northern Ireland contains four key elements: EU regulations, customs, VAT and consent.

Customs and EU rules

The deal would see Northern Ireland legally in the UK customs territory while applying the EU's rules and procedures on tariffs for goods at risk of entering the single market.

And NI would also be aligned with the rules of the single market for industrial goods and agri-food products - meaning a border in the Irish sea for goods going between the rest of the UK and Northern Ireland.

The agreement states there would continue to be "unfettered" access for goods from NI moving into the UK and "the importance of maintaining the integral place of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom’s internal market".


EU rules on Value Added Tax and excise duties will apply in Northern Ireland, with the UK responsible for their collection. However, revenues derived will be retained by the UK.

The UK will also be able to apply VAT exemptions and reduced rates in Northern Ireland that are applied in Ireland.


On consent a Stormont Assembly would first vote on EU alignment four years after the end of the transition period. If Stormont voted to opt-out of EU alignment there would then be a two-year cooling off period for alternatives to be found to prevent a hardening of the border.

The default would be the protocols would remain - meaning EU alignment.

Should a vote result in a simple majority in favour of continued alignment, then another vote would take place four years later.  If a majority of MLAs supported continued alignment on a cross-community basis, another vote would be held in eight years time.

The new Brexit deal sees Northern Ireland legally in the UK customs territory while applying the EU's rules and procedures on tariffs

Earlier the head of the Freight Transport Association in Northern Ireland said the present Brexit deal is not as good an option for business as the withdrawal agreement negotiated by Theresa May.

Seamus Leheny, policy manager at the FTA, told BBC Good Morning Ulster — before the deal was agreed in Brussels a short time ago — did not give Northern Ireland the same unfettered access to markets as the withdrawal agreement and backstop.

He said that the former deal had given unfettered access to EU markets but that the Boris Johnson deal gave unfettered access only to the Republic of Ireland market and UK markets. 

Mr Leheny said: “The business community has always said the one thing we need from any Brexit solution is clarity and we need some consistency on any deal.  Anything that’s agreed we need to see it for the long term.

“They [the DUP] have concerns but hopefully they can be ironed out.”

But he said the business community was asking: “Is this as good as it gets?  It’s not as good as what we have today and probably not as good as the withdrawal agreement and the backstop.

“The withdrawal agreement gave access to both UK market and EU markets, plus we could avail of EU free trade agreements.

“This deal only gives us unfettered access to the UK market and the Republic of Ireland market.  “We won’t have (unfettered) access to European markets.”

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