BRUSSELS (AP) – Britain and the European Union finally reached a new tentative Brexit deal yesterday, hoping to escape the acrimony, divisions and frustration of their three-year divorce battle. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson now faces the Herculean task of selling the accord to his recalcitrant Parliament — including his allies in Northern Ireland.
Only hours before Brussels hosted a summit of the bloc’s 28 national leaders, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker tweeted: “We have one! It’s a fair and balanced agreement for the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK) and it is testament to our commitment to find solutions.”
Johnson tweeted that the two sides had struck a “great new deal” and urged UK lawmakers to ratify it in a special session being held Saturday — only the first time since 1982 that British lawmakers have been at work on that day.
“This is a deal which allows us to get Brexit done and leave the EU in two weeks’ time,” Johnson tweeted.
The pound hit a five-month high against the US dollar on the news.
Yet immediately complicating matters was Johnson’s Northern Irish government allies, which didn’t waste a minute before announcing they could not back the tentative Brexit deal because of the way it handled the Irish border.
Johnson, however, needs all the support he can get to push any Brexit deal past a deeply divided Parliament and that knowledge tempered jubilation at the EU summit. The UK Parliament already rejected a previous Brexit deal crafted by former British Prime Minister Theresa May three times.
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has been through this scenario before.
“We have this history. That is why my mountaineering temperament keeps me careful and cautious,” said Barnier, who hails from the French Alps and organised the 1992 Olympic Winter Games there.
Barnier was in the room when the leaders called each other and said Johnson “told President Juncker this morning that he believed he was able to get the deal approved,” adding Johnson said he was “confident about his capacity to convince a majority.”
The agreement must still be formally approved by the bloc and ratified by the European Parliament.
The key hurdle to a Brexit deal was finding a way to keep goods and people flowing freely across the border between EU member Ireland and the UK’s Northern Ireland after Brexit. That invisible, open border has underpinned the region’s peace accord and allowed the economies of both Ireland and Northern Ireland to grow.
Johnson insists that all of the UK — including Northern Ireland — must leave the bloc’s customs union, which would seem to make border checks and tariffs inevitable.
But Barnier said the deal “squares this circle” by leaving Northern Ireland inside the EU single market for goods — so border checks are not needed — and also eliminating customs checks at the Irish border. Instead, customs checks will be carried out and tariffs levied on goods entering Northern Ireland that are destined for the EU.