The dam has burst. . Suddenly, against the background of a mass rally for a second referendum, the “technical agreement” of the withdrawal deal has been sprung as a leak. In 600 pages it’s an all-UK customs backstop in the short term. But a form of Northern Ireland backstop survives, fragmented, scaled down from the joint report and appended in annexes we’re told – but present. Hardly anybody has seen it but a cascade of critical comment has poured out regardless.
Key cabinet ministers are being briefed this evening and the whole lot get it to read it one by one in full before tomorrow’s meeting to ratify it. (Good luck with that. Why do they put up with it? Is it because they’re glad not to take full responsibility?)
The main conduit of what is in fact the briefest of summaries, a mere taster, seems to be Tony Connelly of RTE – a situation attacked by Jacob Rees Mogg – “not even leaked to the British Broadcasting Corporation- a disgrace to the nation most affected!”
Two well-placed sources have confirmed that the text was “as stable as it can be”, but they say it would not be correct to say that the negotiations have “concluded”.
According to both sources, there will be one backstop to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
One of the sources said the government wanted to give the UK cabinet “time and space” to analyse the text before making any detailed response
The backstop will come in the form of a temporary UK-wide customs arrangement, with specific provisions for Northern Ireland, which go deeper on the issue of customs and alignment on the rules of the single market than for the rest of the UK
It is understood the text has an agreed review mechanism
RTE News understands that while the main backstop focuses on a UK-wide customs arrangement, there will be specific provisions within the text and within annexes for Northern Ireland, should the UK-wide arrangement not prove sufficient to avoid a hard border.
A spokesperson for the Taoiseach has said that the Government has not been officially informed that a deal had been reached in Brussels.
They said it was a fast moving situation and the Government was aware that the discussions had been developing in the last number of hours.
“At the moment there is nothing confirmed … as far as I am aware there are still a number of matters outstanding in the Withdrawal Agreement,” the spokesperson said.
Close attention will be paid to the terms on which the UK would be able to leave the customs union, with the deal believed to include three options.
One will be the conclusion of a long-term trade agreement between the EU and UK, the terms of which would guarantee no border checks on trade.
Sources in Dublin believe that the outline agreement offers sufficient guarantees in relation to the Border – (for them).
May now faces a three -way pincer movement: from Labour and other opposition parties demanding a favourable vote; from a cross party coalition of campaigners for a second referendum; and from – 80 they claim – Brexiteer rejectionists, almost certainly including the DUP..
(Cautionary note. None of these has read the deal yet)
The DUP demands the prime minister to stand behind the union full square. (We) have said for a long time that we want a proper Brexit, one that delivers on the referendum result – control of our borders, our laws and our money, and that the United Kingdom leaves as one kingdom, that there’s no separation down the Irish Sea.
I am very, very confident that across the piece in parliament, people will look at this and say, what does it do to our precious union, and what does it do for the United Kingdom in the decades ahead?
We have to see the details of it, but it appears to be a UK-wide customs agreement but deeper implications for Northern Ireland both on customs and single market, And as Jacob has said, if that means that we’re taking the rules and laws set in Brussels, not in Westminster or Belfast, then that’s unacceptable.
And he hinted his MPs could help vote down the Conservatives’ budget if they were unhappy with the direction of travel:
The finance bill has a long way to go through parliament, there will be a lot of opportunities for amendments, but let’s see what happens.
Predictably the Tory arch Brexiteers have slammed it in advance.
This has been ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold’ for some months. We are going to stay in the customs union, we are going to stay in large parts of the single market.
It’s vassal state stuff as for the first time in 1,000 years this parliament will not have a say over the laws that govern this country.
It is utterly unacceptable to anybody who believes in democracy …
For the first time since partition, Dublin would have more say in some aspects of the governing of Northern Ireland than London. So I don’t see how you can support from a democratic point of view.
Iain Duncan Smith
This government’s days are numbered if the deal is as reported.
Jacob Rees Mogg I hope the cabinet will block it and I hope MPs will block it”
No surprises there. The DUP are a mite more cautious.
Paul Goodman, editor of Conservative Home, the home site of the Tory centre right
On our count, Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt, Dominic Raab, Gavin Williamson, Liam Fox, Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, Esther McVey, Natalie Evans, David Mundell and Penny Mordaunt have all variously asked questions or expressed doubts about where the deal is going.
Add Liz Truss, Andrea Leadsom and Geoffrey Cox to the list – all these are entitled to attend Cabinet, though they are not full members – and one reaches 14 of a total of 29, just under half.
Of course, it is the Prime Minister who takes the voices and shapes Cabinet minutes: its members don’t do anything so crude as cast votes. In short, if she is determined to make the proposed deal the basis for a summit, Cabinet members aren’t well placed to stop her.
Which leaves only one course open to them. If those resistant to approving any deal on the basis of a single meeting aren’t heeded, they will have no practicable alternative but to resign.
Our article of a month ago was headed: the Cabinet must stand ready to take back control. Tomorrow may be the last chance that its members have to do so.
It looks as if most of them won’t.
The verdict of veteran BBC deputy pol ed John Pienaar.
Parliament looks like the ultimate test. And for the life of me, I am unable, as things stand, to make the numbers add up to anything other than a government defeat. That’s how it looks tonight, at any rate.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London