Brexit Deal Fails over Northern Ireland Status

Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker Britain EU Brexit talks, Brussels, Belgium - 04 Dec 2017. (Photo by OLIVIER HOSLET/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

The European Union and the United Kingdom didn’t manage to meet today’s deadline to reach a deal on the first stage of the Brexit process. The so-called “divorce deal”  was reportedly sunk by the late rejection of the DUP, the biggest Northern Ireland political party and part of the ruling coalition with the Conservatives.

European Commision President Jean Claude Jucker and British Prime Minister Theresa May lead delegations on today’s negotiations, which began on a positive note and with a lot of optimism in Brussels. In the morning hours, an unofficial draft was circulated by the Irish public broadcaster RTE.

The British side was ready to accept this text of the agreement, according to the sources. The draft, detailing the separation of the island nation from the EU, also proposed that Northern Ireland would get a special status, with the term “regulatory divergence” specifying the status.

That would mean that Northern Ireland would have a different set of rules than the rest of the UK, and leave a possibility for that part of the Kingdom to stay in the joint market after the Brexit process. This scenario would ease the Republic of Ireland fears, as they don’t want to have a hard physical border with the northern part of the island.

However, the DUP leader Arlene Foster voiced her strong opposition to the plan, using the position of an important coalition partner, as the Conservatives don’t have a majority without their support. After the phone call with the British Prime Minister, the deal was off, reports say.

DUP party’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson claimed Brussels has been trying to bounce May into acceding to the shape of a deal they want and many of her own backbenchers would not accept it. He added they objected to the form of words used in a draft document, which referred to “regulatory alignment” and “no regulatory divergence” between Northern Ireland the EU.

Additional problems came after the news broke of a possible deal, as politicians from Scotland, London and Wales all asked for the same status if Northern Ireland is treated as a special case. Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon claims that she sees no reason why the same deal may not be made with them. She also criticized what she describes as “an unhealthy influence” in Westminster.

May: Two big issues

The Ireland issue seems like the biggest, but not the only stumbling block in the talks. The European and British officials seem to still have no definitive agreement on the status of Union members’ citizens in the UK and vice-versa, although the leaked draft does offer some details. May says that they have been negotiating hard, and a lot of progress has been made

“On many of the issues, there is a common understanding. And it is clear, crucially, that we want to move forward together. But on a couple of issues some differences do remain which require further negotiation and consultation and those will continue,” she said.

Juncker also confirmed that there is no deal in place, and acknowledged May as a tough negotiator. He said that two or three issues were not resolved, but that the positions of the two sides are getting closer.

“I’m still confident that we can reach sufficient progress before the European Council on 15th of December. This is not a failure, this is the start of the very last round. I am very confident that we will reach agreement in the course of this week,” the European Commision President claims.

Brexit talks continue


Brexit talks are expected to continue on Wednesday, when May will again visit the Belgian capital. The two sides want to finish this part of the negotiation as fast as possible, as the nex stage will be more complicated. Brussels and London will try to make a new trade deal until the UK leaves the block.

EU and UK negotiators have long had conflicting opinions if the talks about divorce bill and trade may be happening simultaneously. This proposal was rejected by the European officials, who want to have a clear view how citizen writes and freedom of movement will function before turning to the economy.

There is still a possibility of no deal being struck, which would lead to a “hard Brexit” and a lot of uncertainty how the relations would work after the two-year deadline passes in March of 2019.

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