British and Irish officials have tentatively agreed to keep Northern Ireland’s regulations in line with those of the EU after Brexit, a leaked draft agreement on the issue of the Irish border suggests.
The draft deal text, obtained by Irish public broadcaster RTE, would effectively keep Northern Ireland in the single market and customs union after Brexit by keeping EU regulations in place, unlike the rest of the UK.
Sources in Brussels however told The Independent that though officials on both sides were in broad agreement over the solution to the problem, Downing Street has so far felt unable to sign off on it.
One difficulty for Theresa May is that the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – who she relies on for a majority in the House of Commons, has said that it would veto any bid to move Northern Ireland closer to the Republic – potentially explaining Downing Street’s reticence to sign off the leaked draft agreement.
RTE says the draft deal said: “In the absence of agreed solutions the UK will ensure that there continues to be no divergence from those rules of the internal market and the customs union which, now or in the future, support North South cooperation and the protection of the Good Friday Agreement.”
It adds that this paragraph was later amended to say there would be “continued regulatory alignment” on the island of Ireland.
Speaking to a briefing of journalists in Westminster, Downing Street rubbished the draft leak.
“The PM has been clear that the UK is leaving the European Union as a whole and the territorial and economic integrity of the United Kingdom will be protected,” the Prime Minister’s spokesperson said.
Rubbishing the Irish public broadcaster, he added: “RTE also reported this morning we were holding a Cabinet meeting and I missed that if it occurred.”
Despite Downing Street’s public dismissal of the plan, Sky News reports that the UK Government is “confident” it can get the DUP to agree to a deal by the end of today.
Theresa May has travelled to Brussels on Monday morning to meet EU presidents Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk for face-to-face talks in the hope of breaking the deadlock.
Whether the results of the meetings will be made public today is currently uncertain, with the EU’s college of commissioners set to meet on Wednesday to formally discuss progress.