A comprehensive deal for Britain’s departure from the EU has been agreed by negotiators from the London government and the European Union, concluding years of talks marked by British bad faith and political uncertainty, particularly in the north of Ireland.
The deal was reached on the afternoon Christmas Eve, a week before the current trading arrangements expire, and is now expected to be formalised in time to prevent a chaotic hard Brexit.
The 26 County Taoiseach Micheal Martin said the outcome is the “least bad version of Brexit possible” given current circumstances.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen described it as “fair and balanced” deal, while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it would “protect jobs across this country” and had “taken back control of our laws and our destiny”.
As the deal was announced, Johnson tweeted a picture of himself smiling with both thumbs lifted in the air, but he later acknowledged Britain had been forced to give ground in last-minute talks on fishing.
At his press conference, he insisted the £668bn a year agreement would “protect jobs across this country” and “enable UK goods to be sold without tariffs, without quotas in the EU market”.
From an Irish point of view, most of the heat had been taken out by Britain’s agreement to uphold the previously agreed Irish Protocol. That provides a form of special status within the EU for the north of Ireland. It also raised issues for trade across the Irish Sea, which today’s deal is expected to alleviate.
Mr Martin said his government would “consider the detail of the text very carefully”.
“From what we have heard today, I believe that it represents a good compromise and a balanced outcome,” he said.
On security, it is understood today’s document indicates that Britain and the EU will establish a new extradition arrangement, as well as a new framework for law enforcement and judicial co-operation. It also requires Britain to “protect and give domestic effect to fundamental rights, such as those set out in the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR)”.
It allows the EU to suspend security cooperation if it fails to do so.
DUP leader and the North’s First Minister, Arlene Foster, called the deal “good news”, but added that “clearly we will want to see the detail of the deal, particularly around security cooperation”. However, she described it as the “start of a new era” and looked forward to “to maximise the opportunities the new arrangements provide for our local economy”.
Sinn Féin’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the announcement was “good news”.
“As an Executive, we will now need to consider the detail of the agreement because there will be many questions on what the agreement means for businesses and citizens, and it is important they get that clarity.”
However, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Brexit was happening “against Scotland’s will”, referring to Scotland’s EU referendum result where 62% voted to remain part of the European Union. She said no deal could make up for what “Brexit takes away from us”.
She also said it was time for Scotland to “chart our own future as an independent European nation”.
Since the announcement, calls for referendums on Irish Unity and Scottish Independence have been trending across social media.
Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald said that now is the time to start planning for the future, post-Brexit.
She said: “Four and a half years ago the north of Ireland voted to remain, but despite the wishes of the people it now finds itself outside of the European Union as a result of a Tory inspired Brexit.
“There will be relief that a trade deal has now been agreed between Britain and the EU and special arrangements for Ireland, encapsulated in the Irish Protocol, will be implemented.”
Ms McDonald added: “The Good Friday Agreement has been protected, there will be no hardening of the border and protections for the all-island economy are in place. There is also a level of certainty for businesses.
“But we are under no illusions that there is no good Brexit for Ireland, north or south, and the full consequences of this are as yet unknown.
“We need to look at the detail in this document and test it against what had been set out in principle in the wider agreement, the Irish Protocol and also against the Good Friday Agreement.”