British Prime Minister rejects draft Brexit deal

The deal includes a 'backstop' arrangement to prevent a hard border in Ireland

The British Prime Minister has rejected the draft Brexit agreement published by the European Commission this afternoon.

The document includes the ‘backstop’ arrangement agreed in December that would see a “common regulatory area” established in Northern Ireland following Brexit – if no other solutions to the border issue can be found.

The Taoiseach has said the document sets out in black and white how we can avoid a hard border.

On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Leo Varadkar said the document would legally enshrine the backstop in an international treaty.

However, speaking in Westminster this afternoon, British Prime Minister Theresa May claimed that agreement threatened the "constitutional integrity" of the UK.

She said Britain continued to stand behind “all of the commitments we made in December.”

However, she warned “the draft legal text the Commission have published would, if implemented, undermine the UK common market and threaten the constitutional integrity of the UK by creating a customs and regulatory border down the Irish Sea,” she said.

“No UK Prime Minister could ever agree to it.

“I will be making it crystal clear to President Juncker and others that we will never do so.

“We are committed to ensuring that we see no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland – but the December text also made clear that there should continue to be trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK as there is today.”

The draft agreement states: "A common regulatory area comprising the Union and the United Kingdom in respect of Northern Ireland is hereby established.

"The common regulatory area shall constitute an area without internal borders in which the free movement of goods is ensured and North-South cooperation protected in accordance with this Chapter."

In a press conference in Brussels, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier insisted the details of the draft should not come as a surprise given the deal reached with Theresa May late last year.

The DUP has repeatedly voiced its opposition to any solution that would put the North on a different regulatory footing to the UK.

Speaking the Dáil this afternoon, the Taoiseach said it is up to anyone who is unhappy to bring forward alternatives.

“There will be people – hard-line Brexiteers, some politicians in northern Ireland - who will say no and who will be angry at what they see today,” he said.

“But just saying no and just being angry is not enough.

“If people don’t like what they see today, it is incumbent on them now to come up with alternative solutions; to flesh out option A, flesh out option B and write it down in legal form that can be enforced.”

On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, he noted that the DUP does not speak for Northern Ireland – where the majority of people voted remain.

In a tweet this afternoon DUP leader Arlene Foster said the draft text was “constitutionally unacceptable.”

Members of the DUP insisted their party would not agree to any deal for Northern Ireland that's separate from the rest of the UK. 

In the Dáil, Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald welcomed the “fact that the EU now accepts that special arrangements are needed for the North.”

Leo Varadkar told Newstalk that the UK can have as close a relationship witht he Eu as it likes, but warned “what it can’t do is cherrypick.”

“It is not possible to say we want to be aligned the EU when it suits us and when it is to our advantage but we don’t when we don’t,” he said.

Announcing the draft agreement this afternoon, Europe’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier echoed that warning.

He said the UK “should know what we are” adding that the single market is “our main asset - so there will be no cherry picking."

"We've got 43 years of integration between Britain and the EU that have to be unravelled here," he said. "This is a matter that has to be settled through text.”

"We're not talking about speeches, fine words or declarations but a treaty that is legally valid and serious."

He insisted that “daily life around the border should continue as today” following Brexit.

He is due to meet with both the DUP and Sinn Féin next week.

The back-stop has been moved out of the main withdrawal agreement and included in the ‘protocols’ – a move labelled a political fudge by Fianna Fáil.

The party’s Brexit spokesperson told Newstalk on Sunday that there is a fear that European negotiators are “backsliding” and “putting less strength” on the back-stop.

He warned that the talks “cannot under any circumstances move forward at the risk of border controls in Ireland.”