The UK and the EU have finally thrashed out a deal on the UK’s exit from the bloc, though celebrations may be short lived as a large question mark hangs over the support of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
The support of the DUP is crucial if the newly-forged Brexit deal is to pass through the UK House of Commons before the 31 October deadline.
The party issued a statement earlier on Thursday in which leader Arlene Foster and deputy leader Nigel Dodds said that as things stood in the proposed deal they “could not support what is being suggested on customs and consent issues.”
They said they would continue to work with the Government to try to get a “sensible deal” that works for Northern Ireland and protects the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom.
Around midday, a tweet sent out by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker heralded the sealing of a deal with much fanfare, saying “where there is a will there is a deal – we have one!” Juncker called the deal a “fair and balanced agreement” and described it as “a testament to our commitment to find solutions.”
The Twittersphere was alight with reactions shortly thereafter, with UK opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeting, “From what we know, [Boris] Johnson's negotiated a worse deal than Theresa May.”
He added, “This sell-out deal risks our rights, protections and NHS. It 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.”
“This sell-out deal risks our rights, protections and NHS. It won’t bring the country together and should be rejected” Jeremy Corbyn, UK opposition leader
Former UK Europe Minister Denis MacShane tweeted, “Did Juncker know that the DUP has rejected Johnson’s text? Unless things change [it’s] far from clear there is a House of Commons majority.”
UK S&D MEP Seb Dance called the deal “neither fair nor balanced,” adding that it irrevocably damages UK industry, research capabilities, services and communities.
He said that it was “nothing like what was sold in 2016” and that it puts the UK on an “inevitable path to splitting.”
UK Greens deputy Molly Scott Cato was equally unimpressed, describing the deal as “worse for the EU single market and worse for the ‘United’ Kingdom than the deal agreed with [Theresa] May.”
“Will the Westminster Parliament pass this deal when it is so much worse for the country than continued EU membership?” she asked, adding that all eyes will now be on Westminster on Saturday - “and on the one million people outside” - when the UK Parliament convenes for a special sitting.
A lunchtime press conference with chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier heard more information on the finer points of the deal and certain details were revealed, including what was the turning point in the protracted negotiations between the two sides.
Barnier said that it was following a meeting in Liverpool between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that the UK and EU negotiating teams were able to make headway on the thorny Irish border issue.
“Will the Westminster Parliament pass this deal when it is so much worse for the country than continued EU membership?” Molly Scott Cato MEP
Barnier explained the intricacies of the new “legally-operative solution” to avoid a hard border, which will protect the integrity of the single market and protect peace and stability on the island of Ireland.
Essentially this will entail Northern Ireland being ‘aligned’ to a limited set of EU rules on goods at point of entry, where UK officials will be responsible for applying the EU’s customs procedures.
Calling it “a solution that works for the EU, for the UK and for people and businesses in Northern Ireland,” Barnier said the deal brings legal certainty where the UK's withdrawal from the EU created uncertainty and that there is now clarity in the areas of citizens' rights, the financial settlement, and the establishment of a transition period until at least the end of 2020.
Before the revised Withdrawal Agreement can enter into force, it needs to be ratified by the EU and the UK. A special sitting of the House of Commons on Saturday will prove to be make or break in the survival of the new deal.