Northern Ireland news

Speculation mounts on Theresa May's 'secret deal' on Brexit that avoids need for hard border

Sign at a stop junction in the Republic saying "Hard Border Ahead"
Paul Ainsworth

British Prime Minister Theresa May has secured a deal with the EU on Brexit that will avoid the need for a hard border in Ireland, it has been reported.

The PM has secured "private concessions" from Brussels that the whole of the UK will be allowed to remain in a customs union with the EU after Brexit occurs in March, according to The Sunday Times' political editor Tim Shipman.

The report claims an "all-UK customs deal" will be written into the legally binding withdrawal agreement, which would do away with the need for the controversial "backstop" arrangement agreed by the UK last December, which would see Northern Ireland remain in full alignment with the EU's single market and customs union rules in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

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The backstop plan enraged the DUP, which is propping up May's Conservative government at Westminster, and the PM has since said she could "not accept" any deal that would require a customs border between the North and Great Britain.

The Sunday Times report said preparations for a final Brexit deal were "far more advanced than previously disclosed" and that May's agreement would satisfy both remain-voting Tories and the hardline Eurosceptics within her party.

Crucially, the speculated new deal will contain an "exit clause" that May hopes will show Eurosceptiocs that the UK will not remain in a customs union with the EU indefinitely.

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In regards to customs checks, the deal is said to include an agreement by the EU that checks on goods can take place at places of manufacture, or in shops, instead of at the border. The new deal will bring the UK closer to the prospect of a free trade deal with the EU similar to that of Canada, it has been suggested.

It is speculated that May is hoping for enough progress in Brexit talks this week to secure a summit later this month in which the final details of a deal will be negotiated.

Meanwhile, the report predicts that the PM will sell the deal to hardliners within her party by insisting that they will be to blame should the UK crash out of the EU without a deal in four months' time.

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However, May's former Brexit Secretary has said she must publish legal advice on any deal ahead of a Commons vote, so MPs are fully briefed.

Writing in the Sunday Times, David Davis said: "We need cards laid on the table so that we can form a judgment. Is the future of the union stake? Are we being hurtled toward a Hotel California Brexit where we can check out but never leave?"

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