The final, much-delayed agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union – including, Ireland – has been published, spelling out what steps the UK will take as the country proceeds to exit from the EU. The Irish press is presenting the document as something of a humiliating climb-down for the Democratic Unionist Party and Europhobic members of the ruling Conservative Party in Britain, who objected to a previous version of the publication. Dublin’s determination to maintain the spirit and intent of the understanding, even if the wording was changed to assuage DUP and backbench Tory concerns, seems to have been carried through to the final release. An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has got his “cast iron” deal, dismissing the alterations as “”stylistic changes in language”. In contrast the British prime minister Theresa May has presented the unionist leader, Arlene Foster, with little more than a fig-leaf to cover the latter’s naked powerlessness.
Despite the parliamentary coalition with the Conservatives, the Democratic Unionists seem to have realised that taking on two national governments, one of which is allied to twenty-six other member-states of the European Union plus the Brussels’ administration, was an untenable position to hold. Foster’s less than friendly warning to May about not “proceeding with this agreement in its present form” was politely ignored today, the premier taking the gamble that the DUP and her own truculent MPs are in no mood for a general election. Especially one which might well see Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party get their feet inside the door of Number 10 Downing Street.
As things stand, the document details some remarkable concessions by the United Kingdom to the EU. Not least, the acceptance that the residents of the UK-administered Six Counties will continue to qualify as citizens of Ireland and the European Union, with full citizenship rights. In effect the UK has accepted the extraterritorial nationality of a population resident in a region it claims as its own, ratifying the commitments given in the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement of 1998.
JOINT REPORT FROM THE NEGOTIATORS OF THE EUROPEAN
UNION AND THE UNITED KINGDOM GOVERNMENT
ON PROGRESS DURING PHASE 1 OF NEGOTIATIONS UNDER
ARTICLE 50 TEU ON THE UNITED KINGDOM’S ORDERLY
WITHDRAWAL FROM THE EUROPEAN UNION
2. Both Parties have reached agreement in principle across the following three areas under consideration in the first phase of negotiations, on which further detail is set out in this report:
a. protecting the rights of Union citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the Union;
b. the framework for addressing the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland;
c. the financial settlement
Ireland and Northern Ireland
42. Both Parties affirm that the achievements, benefits and commitments of the peace process will remain of paramount importance to peace, stability and reconciliation. They agree that the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement reached on 10 April 1998 by the United Kingdom Government, the Irish Government and the other participants in the multi-party negotiations (the ‘1998 Agreement’) must be protected in all its parts, and that this extends to the practical application of the 1998 Agreement on the island of Ireland and to the totality of the relationships set out in the Agreement.
43. The United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union presents a significant and unique challenge in relation to the island of Ireland. The United Kingdom recalls its commitment to protecting the operation of the 1998 Agreement, including its subsequent implementation agreements and arrangements, and to the effective operation of each of the institutions and bodies established under them. The United Kingdom also recalls its commitment to the avoidance of a hard border, including any physical infrastructure or related checks and controls.
44. Both Parties recognise the need to respect the provisions of the 1998 Agreement regarding the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the principle of consent. The commitments set out in this joint report are and must remain fully consistent with these provisions. 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.
45. The United Kingdom respects Ireland’s ongoing membership of the European Union and all of the corresponding rights and obligations that entails, in particular Ireland’s place in the Internal Market and the Customs Union. 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.
46. The commitments and principles outlined in this joint report will not pre-determine the outcome of wider discussions on the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom and are, as necessary, specific to the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland. They are made and must be upheld in all circumstances, irrespective of the nature of any future agreement between the European Union and United Kingdom.
47. Cooperation between Ireland and Northern Ireland is a central part of the 1998 Agreement and is essential for achieving reconciliation and the normalisation of relationships on the island of Ireland. In this regard, both Parties recall the roles, functions and safeguards of the Northern Ireland Executive, the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the North-South Ministerial Council (including its cross-community provisions) as set out in the 1998 Agreement. The two Parties have carried out a mapping exercise, which shows that North-South cooperation relies to a significant extent on a common European Union legal and policy framework. Therefore, the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union gives rise to substantial challenges to the maintenance and development of North-South cooperation.
48. The United Kingdom remains committed to protecting and supporting continued North-South and East-West cooperation across the full range of political, economic, security, societal and agricultural contexts and frameworks of cooperation, including the continued operation of the North-South implementation bodies.
49. The United Kingdom remains committed to protecting North-South cooperation and to its guarantee of avoiding a hard border. Any future arrangements must be compatible with these overarching requirements. The United Kingdom’s intention is to achieve these objectives through the overall EU-UK relationship. Should this not be possible, the United Kingdom will propose specific solutions to address the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland. 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 cooperation, the all island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.
50. In the absence of agreed solutions, as set out in the previous paragraph, the United Kingdom will ensure that no new regulatory barriers develop between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, unless, consistent with the 1998 Agreement, the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly agree that distinct arrangements are appropriate for Northern Ireland. In all circumstances, the United Kingdom will continue to ensure the same unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the United Kingdom internal market.
51. Both Parties will establish mechanisms to ensure the implementation and oversight of any specific arrangement to safeguard the integrity of the EU Internal Market and the Customs Union.
52. Both Parties acknowledge that the 1998 Agreement recognises the birth right of all the people of Northern Ireland to choose to be Irish or British or both and be accepted as such. The people of Northern Ireland who are Irish citizens will continue to enjoy rights as EU citizens, including where they reside in Northern Ireland. Both Parties therefore agree that the Withdrawal Agreement should respect and be without prejudice to the rights, opportunities and identity that come with European Union citizenship for such people and, in the next phase of negotiations, will examine arrangements required to give effect to the ongoing exercise of, and access to, their EU rights, opportunities and benefits.
53. The 1998 Agreement also includes important provisions on Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity for which EU law and practice has provided a supporting framework in Northern Ireland and across the island of Ireland. The United Kingdom commits to ensuring that no diminution of rights is caused by its departure from the European Union, including in the area of protection against forms of discrimination enshrined in EU law. The United Kingdom commits to facilitating the related work of the institutions and bodies, established by the 1998 Agreement, in upholding human rights and equality standards.
54. Both Parties recognise that the United Kingdom and Ireland may continue to make arrangements between themselves relating to the movement of persons between their territories (Common Travel Area), while fully respecting the rights of natural persons conferred by Union law. The United Kingdom confirms and accepts that the Common Travel Area and associated rights and privileges can continue to operate without affecting Ireland’s obligations under Union law, in particular with respect to free movement for EU citizens.
55. Both Parties will honour their commitments to the PEACE and INTERREG funding programmes under the current multi-annual financial framework. Possibilities for future support will be examined favourably.
56. Given the specific nature of issues related to Ireland and Northern Ireland, and on the basis of the principles and commitments set out above, both Parties agree that in the next phase work will continue in a distinct strand of the negotiations on the detailed arrangements required to give them effect. Such work will also address issues arising from Ireland’s unique geographic situation, including the transit of goods (to and from Ireland via the United Kingdom), in line with the approach established by the European Council Guidelines of 29 April 2017.