May to chair emergency cabinet meeting to discuss draft Brexit deal

Taoiseach and Tánaiste meet officials to discuss text agreed by negotiators

Theresa May will chair an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday after negotiators agreed the draft text of a withdrawal agreement including a backstop to ensure there can be no hard border after Brexit.

If ministers approve the deal, it will go to European Union leaders at a special summit in Brussels on November 25th before being put to votes at Westminster and the European Parliament. Neither side released details of the agreement, which is reported to run to 500 pages, ahead of the cabinet meeting.

As soon as the breakthrough was announced, however, Conservative Brexiteers said they would vote against the deal, which former UK foreign minister Boris Johnson described as utterly unacceptable.

“It’s vassal state stuff as for the first time in 1,000 years this parliament will not have a say over the laws that govern this country. It is utterly unacceptable to anybody who believes in democracy,” he said.


"For the first time since partition, Dublin would have more say in some aspects of the governing of Northern Ireland than London. So I don't see how you can support from a democratic point of view."

UK-wide customs backstop

The Irish Times understands that the deal includes a UK-wide customs backstop with provisions for extra alignment with EU rules in Northern Ireland. The breakthrough came with an agreement on a review mechanism that would determine when the backstop is no longer necessary to ensure that the Border remains open after Brexit.

Dublin remained adamant that its position on a backstop remains unchanged, and would not change – that a backstop which guaranteed no hard border must remain until superseded by a trade deal which achieved the same outcome.

However, having earlier said that it had received no official information that a deal had been reached, the Government remained silent last night, with one source suggesting Dublin did not want to make Mrs May’s task any more difficult by claiming it had achieved its goals.

On Tuesday night, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, along with Minister of State for European Affairs Helen McEntee, met senior officials to discuss the text agreed by the negotiators.

However, Ministers were placed on standby for a Cabinet meeting today to approve the final text.

‘Sensible deal’

In a statement on Tuesday night, DUP leader Arlene Foster said her party wants “a sensible deal” which works for the North, the UK and the Republic but would oppose an agreement which it believed undermined the union between Britain and Northern Ireland.

"An agreement which places new trade barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain will fundamentally undermine the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom. That is not acceptable," she said.

“Over time, such a deal will weaken the Union. No unionist Prime Minister could argue that such a deal is in the national interest...It would be democratically unacceptable for Northern Ireland trade rules to be set by Brussels. Northern Ireland would have no representation in Brussels and would be dependent on a Dublin government speaking up for our core industries.”

Downing Street will brief business leaders about the agreement on Wednesday in the hope of enlisting their support to lobby for the deal if cabinet approves it. But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn suggested on Tuesday night that his party would not help the prime minister to get it through the House of Commons.

“We will look at the details of what has been agreed when they are available. But from what we know of the shambolic handling of these negotiations, this is unlikely to be a good deal for the country. Labour has been clear from the beginning that we need a deal to support jobs and the economy – and that guarantees standards and protections. If this deal doesn’t meet our six tests and work for the whole country, then we will vote against it,” he said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times