Belfast Telegraph

DUP nailed the deal but critics say details are still vague

May and Juncker shake hands
May and Juncker shake hands
British Prime Minister Theresa May, Brexit Minister David Davis (left) and EU President Jean-Claude Juncker (second right) having a working breakfast at the EU Commission in Brussels
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tanaiste Simon Coveney and Minister for European Affairs Helen McEntee speak to media in Dublin after news of the last-minute deal
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Ambiguity surrounds the government's last-minute deal with the EU as the DUP claimed it had secured vital concessions but others insisted the door was still open for special status for Northern Ireland.

Supporters of the deal hailed its vague language as its greatest strength and said it allowed movement to phase two trade talks by offering "something for everyone".

Business leaders welcomed the commitment to no hard border but called for the details to be swiftly hammered out.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said his government had achieved all its goals and described the border assurances as "politically bullet-proof".

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, DUP leader Arlene Foster said the concessions the DUP had secured from Theresa May left "Northern Ireland in a stronger position than it was five days ago".

"It is now clear in the EU-UK agreement that we will leave the EU along with the rest of the UK and there will be no border in the Irish Sea," she writes, and explains that Northern Ireland would leave the single market and the customs union and wouldn't be "separated constitutionally, politically, economically or regulatory" from Britain.

However, yesterday European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker cautioned that there is still much work to be done.

"The UK has made significant commitments on the avoidance of a hard border after its withdrawal from the European Union," he said.

"All of the EU 27 stand firmly behind Ireland and behind the peace process. Let me be clear, we still have a lot of work to do. The joint report is not the withdrawal agreement, that agreement still needs to be drafted by the negotiators on the basis we have agreed yesterday and today and then approved by the (European) Council and ratified by the UK Parliament and European Parliament."

Mrs Foster also insisted: "There will be no so-called 'special status' for Northern Ireland as demanded by Sinn Fein."

But, TUV leader Jim Allister said: "This deal leaves the door open for special status and that is its weakness. There is a pledge of unfettered access for Northern Ireland business to Great Britain but the reverse isn't explicitly stated. The agreement's default position, if there was no trade deal, leaves Northern Ireland entrapped within the EU's single market and customs union on an unspecified, but clearly extensive, range of issues."

The compromise on the Border hammered out early yesterday states that if no trade deal is reached with Brussels, the UK will maintain "full alignment" with elements of the EU single market and customs union which support the economy of the island of Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement

The deal, which will see London pay a divorce bill of up to £39 million to the EU, offers a breathing space to under-pressure Prime Minister Theresa May who described it as "a hard-won agreement in all our interests".

The leaders of the 27 other EU nations will meet at a summit next week to decide whether to allow the negotiations to move forward to stage two. Mr Juncker said he was "confident" they would do so.

Mrs Foster told the Belfast Telegraph the draft text proposed last Monday had been unacceptable.

"It did not safeguard Northern Ireland's post-Brexit access to the UK's single market. Indeed, it was politically, economically and constitutionally unacceptable. It was not the path to a sensible Brexit for Northern Ireland or the UK," she said. "We made the right decision last Monday.  It was right not go with the flow but stand up for Northern Ireland. By using our mandate, we were able to secure significant improvements."

But the DUP leader fired a shot across the bow warning that her party's support for Mrs May at Westminster would depend on the government delivering its pledges to Northern Ireland.

"Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed and how we vote on the final deal will depend on its contents. Along with like-minded colleagues across the House of Commons, we will ensure there is no backsliding on the promises made about the integrity of the Union."

The key points:

Here are the key points of the joint report agreed between the UK and EU on the expected content of Britain's Withdrawal Agreement.

Citizens' rights

Reciprocal protection for EU citizens in UK and Britons living in the remaining 27 member-states who are resident at time of the UK's withdrawal, along with their family.

Right to bring in spouses, civil partners and children forming part of the family at time of Brexit, and any children born or adopted after that date. The UK and EU can require one another's nationals to apply for residence status and obtain documents to prove their right to stay, through a "transparent, smooth and streamlined" process.

Irish border

Both sides agree to protect the Good Friday Agreement and avoid a "hard border" between NI and Republic.

If there is no trade deal, the UK will maintain "full alignment" with single market and customs union rules that "support North-South co-operation, all-island economy and protection of 1998 Agreement".

If there is no deal, UK will ensure no new regulatory barriers develop between Northern Ireland and the mainland and that businesses in province continue to enjoy "unfettered access" to UK internal market.

Right for all Northern Irish people to take British or Irish nationality is preserved. Common Travel Area to continue to operate.

Financial settlement

UK to contribute to the EU budget up to the end of 2020 "as if it had remained in the Union".

UK to pay its share of outstanding unpaid EU commitments - known as the Reste A Liquider (RAL) - and to the financing of EU liabilities at December 31, 2020.

Britain to receive a share of financial benefits that would have fallen to it as a member of the EU before 2020.

Capital in European Investment Bank to be returned to the UK in 12 annual instalments starting at the end of 2019.

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