New deal preserves promise of full regulatory alignment

Analysis: Importantly, the sides have agreed to continue talks on Ireland in next phase

British prime minister Theresa May attends a news conference at the European Commission building in Brussels on Friday. Photograph: Bloomberg

British prime minister Theresa May attends a news conference at the European Commission building in Brussels on Friday. Photograph: Bloomberg

 

The final wording of the agreement between the UK and the EU negotiators preserves the promise of full regulatory alignment between North and South, along with fresh assurances about Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom.

The text now includes a reminder of the principle of consent in the Good Friday Agreement and says the agreement must be consistent with it.

“The United Kingdom continues to respect and support fully Northern Ireland’s position as an integral part of the United Kingdom, consistent with the principle of consent ...The United Kingdom also recalls its commitment to preserving the integrity of its internal market and Northern Ireland’s place within it, as the United Kingdom leaves the European Union’s Internal Market and Customs Union, ” it says.

DUP leader Arlene Foster welcomed these changes but said her party still had concerns about the agreement, particularly around the areas of co-operation where it would be necessary to have alignment of rules and standards between North and South and how such alignment will be achieved without staying in the single market and the customs union.

“We cautioned the prime minister about proceeding with this agreement in its present form given the issues which still need to be resolved and the views expressed to us by many of her own party colleagues.

However, it was ultimately a matter for the prime minister to decide how she chose to proceed,” Ms Foster said.

Before Theresa May travelled to Brussels on Friday morning, some Conservatives were suggesting that any agreement on regulatory alignment would apply only to a few areas of North-South co-operation identified by the Good Friday Agreement.

A narrow interpretation would confine such alignment to a handful of policies such as animal health, transport and energy.

The final text suggests a more expansive interpretation, promising alignment of regulations which support the all-island economy as well as the 1998 Agreement.

“In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South co-operation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement,” it says.

Importantly, the two sides have agreed to continue negotiations on Ireland in a distinct strand of the next phase of the Brexit talks and to look at issues such as the transit of goods to and from Ireland through the UK after Britain leaves the EU.

Following Monday’s debacle in Brussels, British ministers rushed into a promise that any regulatory alignment with the EU after Brexit would apply to the whole of the UK and not just Northern Ireland. This promise has alarmed hardcore Brexiteers, who fear it could mean that Britain will shadow EU regulations after Brexit.

This morning’s agreement is an important win for Ms May but another political headache looms in the next few weeks, when she must agree with her cabinet what Britain’s final relationship with the EU should be.

And Ms Foster warned ominously that the DUP’s continued support for the prime minister’s strategy should not be taken for granted.

“We will play a full part with the Government in the second stage of the negotiations on a comprehensive trade deal.

Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed and how we vote on the final deal will depend on its contents,” she said.