To take stock: Boris Johnson has managed to renegotiate the Brexit withdrawal agreement, the deal previously done by his predecessor Theresa May.
The backstop, so key to the earlier deal and so hated by the Boris Johnson regime and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), is gone.
Instead, the new deal contains a number of provisions in relation to Northern Ireland. The EU's chief negotiator Michael Barnier outlined four main aspects:
(1) Northern Ireland will remain aligned to "a limited range" of single market regulations on goods. That will require checks of goods in the Irish Sea
(2) The North will remain in the UK customs area, but the UK will apply the EU's customs code in the North. That will require customs checks in the Irish sea on goods except those not at risk of entering the EU. However, it will also mean that the North benefits from future UK trade deals
(3) On Vat, arrangements have been made to maintain the integrity of the single market Vat rules, but they will satisfy the "legitimate wishes" of the UK
(4) There will be provision to ensure "long term democratic support" for these arrangements in the North. Four years after their entry into force, the elected representatives of Northern Ireland will decide by simple majority to continue them or not, Barnier said
This replaces the original backstop, and is not a transitional arrangement. This is the end state agreement on the North. “What really matters is the people,” Barnier said. “What really matters is peace.”
EU leaders will assess the text and decide whether to accept it, And it will form the basis for their discussions on Thursday afternoon and beyond. However, for the agreement to be formally accepted, it must first be ratified by the European Parliament, and then accepted by the Council of EU leaders. Both seems likely, though may require another summit.
All eyes will be on Westminster after the DUP said it couldn’t support the new deal. Remember the DUP has been supporting the Tory’s minority government in key votes heretofore, but they are deeply unhappy now.
Johnson has signed up to something that he said he would never – Northern Ireland will be treated significantly differently from the rest of the United Kingdom, and there will be a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea. From the DUP's point of view, these are clearly red lines they will not cross.
From Dublin's point of view – they have conceded on consent, via the Stormont provision, and on time-limit – the North could in theory get out of this arrangement. But how likely is that? For foreseeable future, there will no hardening at all of the Border in Ireland.
And from the EU’s point of view, the single market is protected, the future trade agreement will have the level playing field commitments, and the three objectives of the withdrawal agreement – people, money, Ireland – are achieved.
So it’s over to Westminster . . .