Theresa May’s leadership of the Conservative Party is again under pressure as a series of Ministers resigned and the DUP rallied opposition to a negotiated Brexit deal.
The agreement released on Wednesday night confirms that a protocol on Ireland provides a ‘backstop’ measure that will maintain Ireland’s soft border, unless an alternative is negotiated though arbitration. It also contains assurances on human rights and other elements of the Good Friday Agreement, and maintains the Common Travel Area of free movement of people between Ireland and Britain.
The North of Ireland will remain in the same customs territory as Britain when they leave the EU, although it will be subject to some additional EU regulations to ensure there are no physical checks at the border.
Yesterday, May won the backing of her divided cabinet on the deal, but the DUP reacted sharply, with leader Arlene Foster insisting it was “the break-up of the union”.
The 26-County Taoiseach Leo Varadkar declared the Brexit deal a “pretty good” day in politics, claiming that he had achieved everything that Ireland wanted from the negotiations, including a guarantee over the border.
An exuberant Varadkar said Tory cabinet support for the deal was a breakthrough after two-and-a-half years of negotiation. “This is one of the better days in politics,” he told reporters in Dublin.
He said Ireland’s priorities from the outset had been “protecting the peace process and the Good Friday agreement, protecting the common travel area and protecting trade, jobs and the economy ... On each of these priorities we have achieved a satisfactory outcome today.”
But the days ahead remain fraught with uncertainty, and the Taoiseach was condemned for his preening. Fianna Fail’s Lisa Chamber said his comments were “unhelpful”.
Confidence in the process faltered this morning when May’s Brexit minister, Dominic Raab, led a handful of resignations of high profile Tories from the Tory government.
Amid a torrid session in the House of Commons this afternoon, the DUP made clear that their confidence-and-supply pact to support the minority Tory government was at an end. DUP MP Nigel Dodds told MPs: “The choice is now clear: we stand up for the United Kingdom, the whole of the United Kingdom, the integrity of the United Kingdom, or we vote for a vassal state with the breakup of the United Kingdom, that is the choice.”
DUP’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson claimed the deal was a case of “Northern Ireland being put on a platter as an object to surrender to the EU”.
Separately this morning, a group of politicians from the North met the Taoiseach in Dublin to discuss events.
Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill, SDLP leader Colm Eastwood, The Alliance Party’s Stephen Farry and Green Party leader Steven Agnew attended a joint meeting with Leo Varadkar .
Outside Dublin’s government buildings, Ms O’Neill said the group in Dublin represented the majority of the Six Counties Ireland on a cross-community basis.
“It’s a very fluid situation, and I think it’ll be a very interesting day,” said Ms O’Neill.
“For us, we want to remain in the customs union and the single market and we want protections for the Good Friday Agreement, our message is as consistent today as it was yesterday.”
The DUP and Ulster Unionist parties were not in attendance, apparently rejecting Varadkar’s invitation.
The Taoiseach said that he had not spoken to DUP leader Arlene Foster but said: “The door is always open and the phone is always on.”