British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s deal with Brussels addresses four key sticking points that have so far obstructed a Brexit agreement.
The deal, announced on Thursday, is unlikely to be accepted by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which Johnson’s government is relying on for support in Parliament.
A repackaged backstop
The sticking point over two years of failed efforts to secure a Brexit deal has been the Conservative Party’s opposition to the controversial “backstop” – a solution negotiated between former Prime Minister Theresa May and the European Union to solve issues around the Irish border after the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU.
It would have continued the UK’s membership in the EU customs union in an effort to avoid the creation of a “hard” border that would have created the infrastructure to ensure customs checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
The DUP was furiously opposed to any backstop arrangements that would treat the status of Northern Ireland differently to mainland Great Britain, fearing this to be the thin end of the wedge ultimately leading to Irish reunification.
At the same time, hardline Brexiter Conservative MPs who supported the DUP’s position were not in favour of the backstop because there was no mechanism by which it could be brought to an end, implying the UK’s permanent membership of an EU customs union after Brexit.
Without a backstop, the creation of border infrastructure would violate the terms of the Good Friday peace agreement – a treaty between the UK and Ireland to end decades of paramilitary conflict in the region that stipulates there will be no return to a hard border of any kind.
Despite Johnson’s insistence that he would not capitulate to EU demands for some form of a deal by which Northern Ireland diverges from the rest of the UK, this is in effect what he has done.
It is not the backstop as originally envisaged, but under the new deal now agreed by Brussels, Northern Ireland will be treated differently from mainland Great Britain.
This is a major diplomatic victory for Dublin, which has maintained a consistent position that this is the only way for the UK to avoid a “no deal” Brexit.