Brexit: UK makes ‘sufficient progress’ towards leaving the EU

Brexit: UK makes ‘sufficient progress’ towards leaving the EU

Border arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which remains in the EU, had been a sticking point, with fears check points could damage both economies and undermine hard-won peace in the North.

Following late night talks between British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives and her governing partners, the hardline Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, May rushed to Brussels Friday where she met with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Speaking alongside May in the European capital, Juncker said, “we had to make the deal today,” as a December 14 deadline approached.

“Sufficient progress has now been made on the three terms of the divorce,” Juncker said, referring to conditions the EU had requested regarding a number of issues including the Irish border. Negotiations for the UK to leave the EU can now proceed to the next stage.

“This hasn’t been easy for either side,” May said. “Getting to this point has required give and take on both sides.”

Referring to a sticking point between her party and the DUP, May said, “in Northern Ireland we will guarantee there will be no hard border, and we will uphold the (Good Friday Agreement).”

“No barrier north-south or east-west,” she said.

The

parties had been close to a deal earlier

this week on proposed arrangements for Northern Ireland’s border controls but it fell through after objections from the DUP.

What was agreed?

When Brexit negotiations began just under six months ago, the EU was clear on its position: It would not countenance any discussion about a future relationship with Britain until “sufficient progress” had been made on three issues.

Those are:

— that rights of European citizens in the UK are guaranteed

— that Britain pay a substantial “divorce bill”
— and that there is no reinstatement of a hard border between Northern Ireland, which will leave the EU with the rest of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, which remains in the EU.

“The deal we have struck will guarantee the rights of more than three million EU citizens living in the UK, and over one million UK citizens in the EU,” May said.

European citizens remaining in the UK post Brexit will retain social security, healthcare and a number of other legal rights, according to the declaration.

A framework was also agreed towards a financial settlement, including the UK contributing to annual EU budgets until 2020.

Northern Ireland issue

Language on the Irish situation was less clear. The declaration recognizes the UK’s withdrawal from the EU “presents a significant and unique challenge in relation to the island of Ireland” and the need to avoid a hard border with check points and controls.

“The United Kingdom remains committed to protecting North-South cooperation and to its guarantee of avoiding a hard border,” the declaration said.

“Any future arrangements must be compatible with these overarching requirements. The United Kingdom’s intention is to achieve these objectives through the overall EU-UK relationship. Should this not be possible, the United Kingdom will propose specific solutions to address the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland.”

The Republic of Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said on Twitter Dublin “supports Brexit negotiations moving to Phase 2 now that we have secured assurances for all on the island of Ireland — fully protecting (the Good Friday agreement), peace process, all-island economy and ensuring there can be NO HARD BORDER.”

The Irish border issue was the final stumbling block in tortuous negotiations.

It is a historically delicate issue: the dismantling of border controls and infrastructure was a key plank of the Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland after years of sectarian conflict.

While London, Dublin and Brussels all appeared to be in favor of Northern Ireland remaining subject to key European regulations and laws, avoiding the need for border checks, May’s coalition partners weren’t having it.

After details of the draft deal leaked, DUP leader Arlene Foster

gave a TV statement i

n which she said that her party “will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the United Kingdom.”

It’s unclear what kind of deal may have been reached with the DUP, but while May’s government is dependent on them to remain in power, the Northern Irish party also stands to lose a lot should the unsteady coalition collapse.

The DUP secured a £1.5 billion ($2 billion) funding deal for Northern Ireland when it agreed to support May, and the failure of the government would likely spark an election which may well bring Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party to power, who will not be anywhere near as sympathetic to the right-wing DUP.

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