Belfast Telegraph

May has signed up to a soft-Brexit deal ... but the DUP mapped the final positive conclusion

Simon Coveney
Simon Coveney

By Shona Murray

Prime Minister Theresa May said it right when she described phase one of the Brexit talks as being about the UK building a "deep and special partnership with the EU" while implementing the "decision of the British public" to leave.

This deal allows the UK to say it is leaving the single market and the customs union but also ensures Remainers rest assured they can retain close ties with Britain's neighbours and chief allies.

Credit goes to Irish officials who, alongside the EU and UK task forces, brought us to this place. However, it was the DUP and the Good Friday Agreement that mapped the final postive conclusion.

The demand by the DUP to ensure Northern Ireland was not set apart from the rest of the UK forced the British government to agree to regulatory alignment for all of the UK.

This solution soothed the cries of Scotland and Wales who, unlike the DUP, wanted their jurisdictions treated as special cases. The insistence of the DUP that the UK be treated as a whole triggered a more favourable outcome for Ireland.

Problematic for the UK but invaluable to Ireland is the fact that the closer it remains with Brussels and EU regulations, the further away it moves from striking deals with third countries whose standards are adrift from Europe. The prospects of importing the much-maligned or much vaunted chlorinated chicken - depending on what side you're on - is dramatically reduced under regulatory alignment. So the scope of conducting different deals is much smaller, which will not please hard-Brexiteers who believe the UK could do better on its own.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said Irish citizens could "breathe a sigh of relief".

The agreement by the UK - of its own volition - to apply the same EU rules to the whole of its territory, and not just Northern Ireland, safeguards not only the Good Friday Agreement, but bi-lateral trade. By committing to regulatory alignment as a backstop measure of the UK crashing out of a deal, the UK has also reduced the likelihood of such a scenario ever happening.

Guiding the talks will be the reality that the UK has signed up to, effectively retaining the status quo where the UK will apply all of the same rules and regulations as it does now.

Having made this commitment, it opens up the possibility that any trade deal will be more comprehensive and theoretically less complicated. The impermeable nature of the Irish peace deal acted as lodestar from which all sides could not divert. An iron-cast proposal to avoid a Border in the name of peace, prosperity and stability finally materialised.

Anxiety over a hard Brexit has for now been settled. As things stand, a soft-Brexit in on the horizon.

Shona Murray is a columnist with the Irish Independent

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