What does the Withdrawal Agreement say about the Irish border?

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The Irish border question has been central to the Brexit negotiations ahead of next month’s Commons vote on the EU withdrawal treaty.

Here are a few questions answered:

A protocol setting out details of a “backstop” solution to prevent the establishment of a hard border on the island after Brexit.

The backstop is an insurance policy, only to be implemented if no better permanent solution is found.

– How will it work?

Once the Brexit transition period ends in December 2020, the EU and the UK have agreed the backstop would apply until such a time as a subsequent agreement is in place.

This would create a single EU-UK customs territory avoiding the need for tariffs, quotas or checks on rules of origin between the EU and the UK.

Northern Irish businesses will not face restrictions when placing products on the EU’s Single Market.

– What is the single customs territory?

A lorry stops at a mock customs post set up at Ravensdale, Co Louth (Niall Carson/PA)

There will therefore be no tariffs, quotas and checks on rules of origin between the EU and the UK, with the exception of fishery products;

– Will Northern Ireland remain aligned to the rules and regulations of the EU?

The UK, in respect of Northern Ireland, will remain aligned to a limited set of rules related to the EU’s Single Market which are indispensable for avoiding a hard border: legislation on goods, sanitary rules for veterinary controls, rules on agricultural production/marketing, VAT and excise duty on goods.

-Will there need to be checks between Northern Ireland and Ireland?

Graphic locates main Irish border crossings
(PA Graphics)

– What else does the Protocol contain?

The UK will ensure that there will be no diminution of rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity enshrined in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

The Single Electricity Market will be maintained on the island.

North-South cooperation will continue in areas like environment, health, agriculture, transport, education, tourism, energy, telecommunications, broadcasting, inland fisheries, justice and security, higher education and sport.

– What have Brexiteers said?

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson called for the backstop to be ‘junked’ as he warned that the draft Brexit deal was in danger of turning Northern Ireland into an “economic semi-colony” of the EU (Michael Cooper/PA)

The former Foreign Secretary said the UK was on the verge of “making a historic mistake” and Johnson said the EU had achieved a “very clever trick” by making Northern Ireland an “indispensable bargaining chip” in future negotiations.

– What does the DUP say?

Leader Arlene Foster urged the Government to look beyond the draft Withdrawal Agreement and work for an improved outcome.

Her party’s 10 MPs are set to vote against the deal on December 11 over opposition to the backstop and concerns it could separate Northern Ireland from its main market – the rest of the UK.

– What do pro-Remain voices in Northern Ireland say?

Sinn Fein president Mary-Lou McDonald has said there should be no re-negotiation of the deal and the backstop represented the least worst option.

Business leaders have said the package on offer is better than a no-deal alternative, in which Northern Ireland would be one of the hardest-hit parts of the UK.

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