Northern Ireland news

Analysis: This breakthrough won't signal any respite from the Brexit rollercoaster ride

Ian Knox cartoon 18/10/19 

IT's said there's no such thing as a good Brexit – ergo, there's no such thing as a good withdrawal agreement. But when comparing Theresa May's deal with what Boris Johnson has agreed with the EU, it's hard not to regard the former as the better of the two, much less cumbersome and potentially providing greater stability.

With one foot in the single market and the other in the UK customs union, it looks on the surface like Northern Ireland businesses would face a bureaucratic nightmare, though on the plus side, the region can enjoy the benefits of its 'best of both worlds' status – free trade with EU member states and unfettered access to markets in Britain. However, in order to maximise the opportunities created by this unique situation, some political stability would be necessary. Given the rancour over recent years, the prospects for any Stormont consensus are slim.

The backstop, much-maligned by unionists, is absent from the revised deal and in its place comes Northern Ireland's time-limited alignment with aspects of the EU's single market. A restored Stormont assembly gets a say every four years on whether the region agrees to the arrangements, yet the DUP's hopes of having a veto in the shape of a petition of concern have long been dashed and instead the vote would be decided on a simple majority. The absence of a unionist veto, which leaves the DUP unable to throw the toys out of the pram, appears to be one of key reasons the party rejected the deal.

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Elsewhere, Arlene Foster's floundering party reinstated its objection to internal UK borders, while also casting itself as guardian of the Good Friday Agreement. We can only speculate over how much the party's stance was influenced by the leadership's discussions with loyalist leaders earlier this week.

Others are also sceptical about the latest withdrawal agreement but its main advantage over its ill-fated predecessor is time. Over the past six months people and parliament have become increasingly weary. Three-and-a-half years on from the referendum the cries of 'Just get it done' are becoming louder.

Yet still the chances of getting the deal ratified by Westminster aren't promising with the Tories appearing to stand alone in their support.

Saturday's extraordinary sitting promises to be box office viewing with an expectation that the drama will surpass that of the day's two Rugby World Cup quarter finals but where we will stand in its aftermath is anybody's guess. The Tory leader, who secured a deal with the EU against the odds, may well get the general election he has long desired but there's no guarantee that he'll emerge from that poll with the majority he requires to make a clean break from the EU. Strap yourself in – the Brexit rollercoaster is about to do another lap.

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