Brexit breakthrough

Theresa May guarantees there will be no hard border as commission announces 'sufficient progress'

Rachel Flaherty Fri, Dec 8
LIVE: Brexit breakthrough

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  • This event has now ended
  • 06:31
    Good morning.

    Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, is set to make a statement about 7.50am today on a breakthrough on Brexit talks. We wait with anticipation!

  • 06:39

    Juncker's chief of staff has appeared to tweet there is a deal?


  • 06:42

    DUP leader Arlene Foster told Sky News her party had been “negotiating directly with the Prime Minister” into the early hours of Friday morning and received “very clear confirmation that the entirety of the UK is leaving the EU, leaving the single market, leaving the customs union”.
    Mrs Foster said that the PM “now has a text she feels she wants to take back to Europe”, adding that it included “substantial changes” to the proposals which were rejected by the DUP on Monday.
    “We think that there have been substantial changes made to that text since Monday,” said Mrs Foster.
    “As you know, on Monday we were unhappy with the text when we received it in late morning. We felt there wasn’t enough clarity, particularly round the very important issue of access to the GB market.
    “There have been changes right throughout the text and we believe there have been six substantive changes.
    “For me it means there’s no red line down the Irish Sea.” - PA

  • 06:45
    EU Commission: Sufficient progress has been made in Brexit talks
  • 06:45
    Juncker says Brexit talks to enter second phase.
  • 06:47

    I’ve been in regular contact with the Taoiseach over the last few days...

  • 06:48
    Juncker says: “We have now made the breakthrough we needed.”
  • 06:49
    Juncker says UK has made significant commitments on avoiding a hard Irish border.
  • 06:50
    British prime minister Theresa May is now speaking...
  • 06:52
    There will be no hard border in Ireland, May says
  • 06:53

    May says she spoke to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and agreed to no barriers to trade north-south or east-west.

  • 06:54

  • 06:55

    Leo Varadkar will hold a press conference this morning

  • 06:58

    May says Irish agreement does not mean UK will remain in EU single market

  • 06:58

  • 06:59

    Deal is done

  • 07:02

    ‘Hard won agreement’

    Theresa May said that intensive talks over the past few days had delivered “a hard-won agreement in all our interests”.
    The prime minister said that the agreement would guarantee the rights of three million EU citizens in the UK “enshrined in UK law and enforced by British courts”.
    She said that it included a financial settlement which was “fair to the British taxpayer” and a guarantee that there will be “no hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic, preserving the “constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom”.
    She said that the agreement between the UK and the Commission, being published in a joint report, would offer “welcome certainty” to businesses.

  • 07:04

  • 07:06
    Get in touch with us on the live blog at or on Twitter @rachelfl
  • 07:09

    Simon Coveney speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland:

    Ane extra paragraph that gives reassurances to businesses. Paragraph 50.

  • 07:11
    Single market? Coveney says this is the solution that kicks in - in the absence of 'no deal'
  • 07:12

    Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief negotiator, said: “The Commission’s assessment is based on the real, genuine progress made in each of our three priority areas. By agreeing on these issues, and settling the past, we can now move forward and discuss our future relationship on the basis of trust and confidence.”

  • 07:13
    Back to Coveney: This (agreement) is trying to address very genuine concerns north and south of the island
  • 07:13
    Coveney: There may well be deals in phase two ...that may not solve the Irish issues
  • 07:14
    Coveney: We said we needed an insurance mechanism... we cannot take the risk of unintended consequence of a Border (in phase two talks)
  • 07:15
    Coveney: People should be reassured by that
  • 07:16

    Key part of the deal

  • 07:19
    This is the extra paragraph added to the Brexit deal between Monday and today
    This is the extra paragraph added to the Brexit deal between Monday and today
  • 07:28

    From Cliff Taylor:

    The text is a compromise , of course and leaves it open how a hard Border will be avoided , or even exactly how it is defined. However, it gives Irish negotiators assurances to work with as the talks progress. In essence, the UK has committed to avoiding a hard Border and says it hopes to do this though a future EU/UK deal on trade and commerce.

    However if this is not possible it commits to find “specific solution” and says the UK will ensure “full regulatory alignment“ to the rules of the single market and customs union to meet the goals of North - South cooperation, the all island economy and Belfast agreement.

    There will be a lot more debate on this as the talks progress , but these look like important assurances for Ireland .


  • 07:31

    'Breathe a sigh of relief’

     Simon Coveney: "Hopefully everybody in the country can breathe a sigh of relief.

    We have a cast iron insurance.

    There is a commitment and a guarantee."

  • 07:32
    Coveney: There is no scenario now in the context of Brexit that will result in a hard border.
  • 07:34

  • 07:37

    Donald Tusk is making a statement:

    Let's remember the most difficult challenge is still ahead

  • 07:40
    President of European Council: Clarity is needed on future relations
  • 07:44

    EU's chief Brexit negotiator is on tweeting form this morning

  • 07:48

    Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon reacts

  • 07:49
    Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is expected to make a statement about 8.15am
  • 07:51

    On a side note... first snow!

    There are reports it is snowing in different parts of the country

  • 07:54

    Arlene Foster

    DUP leader Arlene Foster said her party worked with the Government into the early hours of Friday to secure changes to the original text it rejected on Monday.
    Mrs Foster said Northern Ireland would now leave the single market and customs union and insisted there would be no border down the Irish sea, dividing Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
    “There will be no so-called ‘special status’ for Northern Ireland as demanded by Sinn Fein,” she said.
    Mrs Foster added: “Northern Ireland will not be separated constitutionally, politically, economically or regulatory from the rest of the United Kingdom, and the joint UK-EU report at the conclusion of phase one makes clear that in all circumstances the United Kingdom will continue to ensure the same unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the UK internal market.”
    The DUP leader made clear there was “still more work to be done”.
    She said more focus was needed on the areas of potential future alignment with the Irish Republic and how that could be achieved outside of the single market and customs union. - PA
  • 07:55
    Donald Tusk: Breaking up is hard, but breaking up and building new relations is much harder
  • 07:58
    Tánaiste Simon Coveney has described the draft agreement as “good news for anyone, whether you are nationalist or unionist, and living on border communities.”
  • 07:59

    'Not massively happy'

    Former Northern Ireland secretary and leading Brexiteer Theresa Villiers has said that she can "live with" today's Brussels agreement, saying it is consistent with the result of the 2016 referendum result.
    However, Villiers and other Eurosceptics are clearly concerned about some of the language used, saying that "we’re not massively happy" about references in the text to an "regulatory alignment" between UK and EU trade rules after Brexit places in March 2019.

  • 08:04

  • 08:10

    How are they going to do it?

    "Hmm, typical May. It's all very well her standing there saying what has been agreed and what they are going to do.

    What she hasn't said - yet - is how they are going to do it.

    The devil - as always, with the Tories - will be in the detail.

    Let’s wait for the other foot to fall, on this one."

    - Comment from Irish Times' reader George Peel in Manchester

  • 08:14

    From Cliff Taylor:

    "The agreement also specifies that a separate strand of the negotiations in phase two will be concerned with Irish issues. In a move which will be welcomed by Irish businesses, it says this work will also address issues arising from “Ireland’s unique geographical situation”, including the transit of Irish goods through the UK to markets in Continental Europe.

  • 08:16

  • 08:21

    Leo Varadkar is giving a press conference...

  • 08:21
    Varadkar: We achieved all that we set out to achieve in phase one of these negotiations.
  • 08:22
    Varadkar: This is not the end, but it is the end of the beginning
  • 08:22
    Varadkar: Belfast Agreement has been protected
  • 08:23
    Varadkar: The Common Travel Area will continue.
  • 08:23
    Varadkar: Three options have been set out as to how it (no hard border) can be acheived
  • 08:24
    Varadkar: NI and GB will not drift apart.
  • 08:25
    Varadkar: I want to assure you (DUP) that the Irish Government has no hidden agenda.
  • 08:30
    Varadkar: This is phase two, as I said earlier it is the end of the beginning.
  • 08:32

    Varadkar: I haven't spoken directly to Arlene (Foster), We've respected the process that was agreed to at the start.

    In terms of the changes that were made between Monday and today, the one change of significant is paragraph 50.

    That the UK will ensure there are no barriers to trade between NI and Britain

  • 08:35

    Soft Brexit?

    Varadkar: Job for the UK to decide was type of Brexit they have. We will not get into a lot more detail.

    Things are very much moving in the right direction.

    Obviously it's in our interest that the Brexit is as soft as it can be.


  • 08:35

  • 08:38

  • 08:40

  • 08:43

    What is Donald Tusk doing for the rest of the day you ask?

    Theresa May had to head for Brussels in the hours before dawn because Donald Tusk, president of the European Council was heading for the airport for a flight to Hungary this morning.

    So what's he getting up once he is there? High level, urgent meetings with Hungarian politicians? Well, not really, according to his official diary. It simply declares that Tusk will receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Pécs

  • 08:45

  • 08:46

  • 08:50
    Varadkar: "There is no question of us trying to exploit Brexit as a means of moving to a United Ireland without consent."
  • 08:51

  • 08:52
    Eu chief negotiator Michel Barnier is speaking now...
  • 08:54

    Barnier: Progress achieved is sufficient to move on to the next phase of negotiations.


  • 08:57
    Barnier warns there are more hurdles to be faced in the future (refer back to hurdle tweet),
  • 08:59

  • 09:03

    Nigel Dodds, deputy leader of the DUP

  • 09:10

    'Core issues remain unresolved'

    This is not a time for partisan politics maintains Sinn Féin’s deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald.
    She was referring to the draft agreement on Brexit announced in Brussels this morning.
    Ms McDonald told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that she was pleased with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s comments on unionists and nationalists in his speech at Government Buildings.
    “We need to be careful in the midst of the hype,” she warned. “Theresa May and the UK Government are determined to leave the customs union and the single market.
    “That presents a clear and present danger.”
    Northern Ireland leaving the customs union and single market would cause deep, long term trading problems, she said.
    “We need to see the colour of everybody’s money,” Ms McDonald said.
    “The reality is that the core issues remain unresolved.”

  • 09:14

  • 09:15

    EU doctors and nurses

  • 09:16

    Nigel Farage predictable as always


  • 09:22

    'Significant personal achievement'

    Michael Gove has described the deal as a “significant personal achievement for the prime minister” in the interests of the whole of the UK.
    The Brexiteer cabinet minister praised Theresa May’s skills as a negotiator and said she can now move forward to secure a free trade agreement with the EU.
    “I think it’s important to recognise this is a significant personal political achievement for the prime minister,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
    “She got a deal in the interests of the whole of the UK, so the integrity of the UK is absolute and paramount.
    “There won’t be, as some feared, a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. We remain one unified kingdom.
    “More than that, the prime minister has also secured a deal that guarantees the rights of UK citizens abroad and also of the three million EU citizens here.”

  • 09:28

    Leo Varadkar has issued a statement on what has been achieved

    So, what's been achieved?

    1. The Good Friday Agreement in all its parts is protected.

    2. Everyone born in Northern Ireland will continue to have the right to Irish and therefore EU citizenship.  So, a child born in Belfast or Derry today will have the right to study in Paris, buy property in Spain, work in Berlin or any other part of the European Union. All they have to do is exercise the right to Irish and therefore EU citizenship.

    3. The Common Travel Area will continue allowing us to travel freely between Britain and Ireland.

    4. British and Irish citizens will continue to have the freedom to live, work, study, access housing, healthcare, pensions and welfare in each other’s countries as though we are citizens of both.

    5. The United Kingdom has committed to avoiding a hard border as an 'over-arching requirement' with which 'any future arrangements must be compatible'.  There will be no physical infrastructure or related checks or control.  

    Three options have been set out as how this can be achieved. Our preferred option is a deep and comprehensive agreement between the EU and the UK in its entirety which will allow us to trade as we do now. However, that might not be possible. So there is a backstop arrangement in which Northern Ireland and perhaps all of the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with rules of the Internal Market and Customs Union which are relevant to the avoidance of a border, north-south co-operation and the all-island economy.

    6. People and businesses in Northern Ireland are being given the additional assurance that the United Kingdom government will ensure that Northern Ireland business will continue to have unfettered access to the whole of UK and that no new barriers will develop between Northern Ireland and Great Britain unless the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly agree to it.  Northern Ireland and Great Britain will not drift apart.  

    7. PEACE and INTERREG funding which is so valuable to our border communities will continue until 2021 and we will favourably examine continuing it beyond that.

    8. The United Kingdom has committed to ensuring that in Northern Ireland there is no diminution of human rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity set out in European Law.  

    9. And finally, there will continue to be a distinct strand on Ireland in   phase two of these negotiations.


  • 09:30

  • 09:40

    Fair comment

  • 09:41

  • 09:47

  • 09:48


  • 09:57

    New deal preserves promise of full regulatory alignment

    Analysis from London Editor Denis Staunton: Importantly, the sides have agreed to continue talks on Ireland in next phase

    The final wording of the agreement between the UK and the EU negotiators preserves the promise of full regulatory alignment between North and South, along with fresh assurances about Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom.
    The text now includes a reminder of the principle of consent in the Good Friday Agreement and says the agreement must be consistent with it.
    “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 ...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, ” it says.
    DUP leader Arlene Foster welcomed these changes but said her party still had concerns about the agreement, particularly around the areas of co-operation where it would be necessary to have alignment of rules and standards between North and South and how such alignment will be achieved without staying in the single market and the customs union.
    “We cautioned the prime minister about proceeding with this agreement in its present form given the issues which still need to be resolved and the views expressed to us by many of her own party colleagues.
    However, it was ultimately a matter for the prime minister to decide how she chose to proceed,” Ms Foster said.

    Full article here

  • 10:04

    Boris Johnson is praising the British PM

  • 10:06

    Praise for May

    British foreign secretary Boris Johnson — who along with Mr Gove was the most prominent Conservative on the Vote Leave campaign — echoed the warm words towards his leader, tweeting “congratulations to PM for her determination in getting today’s deal”.

  • 10:18

    Bertie Ahern

  • 10:26

    Essential reading from Cliff Taylor

    Brexit deal a major victory for Ireland but the Border conundrum remains
    A soft Brexit may be the only way this whole deal can hold together

    The deal agreed overnight provides assurances to Ireland about the absence of a hard Border on the island after Brexit in March 2019, though it leaves it open how this will be achieved. The key issue for Ireland is that it gives the Government important commitments to work with as the talks go on, which both the EU and UK have signed up to. There is still scope here for much debate in the months ahead . But Ireland has certainly won important assurances here and the Government will feel it was worth the fight.
    There is now a real question about whether the British prime minister can square the circles in what she has signed up to – and actually keep her government together as the talks progress. You don’t have to look too closely at the text to see the difficulties ahead for the UK as she tries to balance the different wings of her own party and the Democratic Unionist Party, which is propping up Ms May’s administration.
    First we should note that everyone has agreed there will be no “ hard Border”, but no one has defined precisely what this phrase means. There may be scope for rows here in the months ahead. However the Irish Government will feel it has made enough progress to improve its position in the arguments to come.
    Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said that it is clear now that there will be no need for customs checks between North and South after Brexit – and Ireland’s goal as the talks progress will be to ensure that this is actually achieved in whatever emerges.
    The text of the deal confirms that the UK’s intention is to leave the EU trading bloc after Brexit – departing from the customs union and the single market. Had the UK remained part of these arrangements, then by definition a Border would not have been needed. The UK’s determination to leave is why the whole issue of avoiding a Border gets so darn complicated.
    It is still not clear how a new trade Border will be avoided – remember that the goal at this stage was to achieve “sufficient progress” on this. However what Ireland feels it has achieved is a “backstop” that if no future EU/UK trade deal emerges which avoids a hard Border, both parts of Ireland will still be subject to the same customs and trade rules and regulations, sufficient to avoid a hard Border.
    The key part of the text says first that the UK wants to achieve the goal of avoiding a hard Border via “the overall EU-UK relationship”, in other words a new trade deal. Given that the UK has committed to leaving the single market and customs unions, wants to escape from EU rules and regulations and intends to do new trade deals with third countries, it is far from clear how this might be achieved. If different trading regimes apply North and South, then a Border will be needed. This central conundrum remains.
    However Ireland will hope that the text ensures that this will remain largely a UK problem. This is because of the backstop, which says that if a hard Border cannot be avoided via whatever overall deal emerges, then the UK will propose “specific solutions.”

    Full analysis here


  • 10:32

  • 10:38

    Full text of the report

  • 10:53

    MLA Edwin Poots is not happy

  • 10:55

    First minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon gets straight to the point


  • 11:05

    EU agreeing a free trade deal with Japan

  • 11:39

    Micheál Martin

    Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin says Northern Ireland could get the best of both worlds in the Brexit negotiations.

    “They could do with a break. Historically, they haven’t done well economically,” he told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show.

    “The devil will be in the detail, but the crucial issue will be the four freedoms.”

    It said there was a certain logic that the more than can be done to accomplish a “soft border” it will be “better all round” for Ireland, Northern Ireland, the UK and the EU.

    “Obviously there will be issues of interpretation.” he said.

    Mr Martin said it was no small achievement for British prime minister Theresa May to get to this stage given all the difficulties she faced.

    “Phase 2 will be a crucial stage for Ireland.”

  • 11:54

    Best way to explain it coming up to lunchtime

  • 11:58

    Derek Scally, our Berlin correspondent, is at the German government press conference, where Angela Merkel's spokesman refuses to be drawn on the Brexit agreement.

     Reaction in Germany

    Berlin has given a cautious reaction to Friday morning's Brexit agreement between the UK government and European Commission in Brussels.

    While EU, UK and Irish officials welcomed the breakthrough, acting Chancellor Angela Merkel declined to be drawn on how she views the commission recommendation to move onto phase two of Brexit talks.

    "This is a step forward and will be examined closely," said Mr Steffen Seibert, federal government spokesman. "Friday next week the decision will fall, so or so."

    Ahead of next Friday's EU-27 meeting, without the UK, Mr Seibert was asked if Berlin shares concerns from Friday morning of European Council president Donald Tusk and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, that the heavy lifting still lies ahead.

    "Everyone understands that, even if there is agreement to move from phase one to phase two," he said, "there is still a lot of work ahead for the negotiators."

    Mr Seibert declined to say whether Dr Merkel would address the Bundestag parliament ahead of next week's European Council meeting.

    With Berlin still without a government, 10 weeks after the election, Mr Seibert insisted the acting chancellor and her administration was "able to act".

  • 12:10

  • 12:12

  • 12:26

    Fintan O’Toole: Ireland has just saved the UK from the madness of a hard Brexit
    If the UK mirrors customs union, why bother leaving EU in the first place?

    Let’s not understate the import of what Ireland has just achieved. It has not just secured an outcome that minimises the damage of Brexit on this island. It has radically altered the trajectory of Brexit itself, pushing that crazy careering vehicle away from its path towards the cliff edge.
    This saga has taken many strange turns, but this is the strangest of all: after one of the most fraught fortnights in the recent history of Anglo-Irish relations, Ireland has just done Britain a favour of historic dimensions. It has saved it from the madness of a hard Brexit. There is a great irony here: the problem that the Brexiteers most relentlessly ignored has come to determine the entire shape of their project. By standing firm against their attempts to bully, cajole and blame it, Ireland has shifted Brexit towards a soft outcome. It is now far more likely that Britain will stay in the customs union and the single market. It is also more likely that Brexit will not in fact happen.
    Essentially what this extraordinary deal does is to reverse engineer Brexit as a whole from one single component - the need to avoid a hard Irish border. It follows the Sherlock Holmes principle: eliminate the impossible and whatever remains, however improbable, must be the solution. The Irish Government, by taking a firm stance and retaining the rock solid support of the rest of the EU, made the hard border the defining impossibility. Working back from that, the Brexit project now has to embrace what seemed, even last Monday, highly improbable: the necessity, at a minimum, for the entire UK to mirror the rules of the customs union and the single market after it leaves the EU. And this in turn raises the biggest question of all: if the UK is going to mirror the customs union and the single market, why go to the considerable bother of leaving the EU in the first place?
    The great surprise of the text of the joint report is that its language is actually much more favourable to Ireland that the text that was leaked on Monday as having been agreed.

    Articles continues here

  • 12:59

    Front page 1921


  • 13:13

    In other news...a lot more snow!

    Met Éireann has issued a new orange for a "significant fall of snow" for 17 counties this weekend.

    Snow-ice warning for Connacht, Cavan, Monaghan, Donegal, Dublin, Kildare, Laois, Longford, Louth, Wicklow, Offaly, Westmeath and Meath.
    Accumulations of 4 to 8cm could occur quite widely with greater totals possible.

  • 13:25

    Further reaction from DUP:

    DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson MP told The Irish Times:
    "We have made it quite clear that we cautioned the prime minister about going to Brussels with the deal as it is at present.
    "We would have liked to have seen some more changes but,  I mean,  it was her choice at the end of the day.
    "But, I suppose on the most crucial thing, the assurances that first of all Northern Ireland would not be treated differently than the rest of the United Kingdom in any final agreement with the EU, that there would be nothing done to out barriers between Northern Ireland, either constitutionally or economically and the rest of the UK, which of course is our main market.
    "We have got assurances on that and written in the document and that we will be leaving the customs union and the EU along with the United Kingdom, we have assurances on that and we will have totally unfettered access to the UK's internal market.
    "We were pleased with that, the unionist part of it, but I think there is still some ambiguity around this full alignment issue.

    -Amanda Ferguson reports

  • 13:29

    Say what you really think Sammy...

  • 13:45

    Farmer's relief at agreement

    Cross-border farmers from both the Remain and Leave camps have expressed relief over the Brexit deal on the Irish border.
    Fermanagh farmer John Sheridan, who had planned to close his family farms amid concerns of a hard Brexit border, said they have now been granted “a stay of execution” by Friday’s deal between the European Union and the UK.
    “We had a lot riding on this. I was planning to advise the company, which is run by my children, to sell the stock and pull out. We have a stay of execution now.
    “We had full intentions of starting the process of pulling the farms out. But now, I will certainly be saying I am happy to battle on,” said Mr Sheridan, whose farms are on the south-west Fermanagh border.
    “The border is all around me at a 90 degree angle. We wouldn’t appreciate being held at a 90 degree angle when all our lives have been used to 360 degrees freedom. - PA


  • 13:47

    What happens next?


    Now that the European Commission has agreed that “sufficient progress” has been made on the UK’s EU withdrawal deal, what happens next?
    :: December 11 — Theresa May expected to deliver a statement to the House of Commons.
    :: December 13 — European Parliament debates and votes on the joint report drawn up by negotiators for the UK and EU on the divorce issues of citizens’ rights, the Irish border and the financial settlement.
    :: December 14-15 — Leaders of the remaining 27 EU states, meeting at a scheduled European Council summit, are expected to give the green light to move negotiations on to trade and the transition to a post- Brexit relationship.
    :: December 20 — The Government’s EU (Withdrawal) Bill is due to complete the crucial committee stage in the House of Commons, with further debates in both Houses of Parliament expected to take up months of 2018.
    :: Winter/spring — Negotiations on the transition to future EU/UK relations, along with “exploratory talks” on a possible free trade agreement.
    :: March 22-23 — European Council summit in Brussels. An opportunity to assess what kind of trade deal can be expected.

  • 13:54
    That's it from me today. Thank you for your company. Have a good weekend!   You can keep up to date with all the latest news on