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Britain and EU agree new Brexit deal, says Juncker and Johnson

Britain and EU agree new Brexit deal, says Juncker and Johnson

Anti-Brexit demonstrators waving EU and Union flags are reflected in a puddle in front of the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, on Mar 28, 2018. (Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville)

BRUSSELS: A new Brexit deal has been agreed between the European Union and the United Kingdom negotiating teams, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday (Oct 17). 

"Where there is a will, there is a deal - we have one," Mr Juncker said. 

"It's a fair and balanced agreement for the EU and the UK and it is testament to our commitment to find solutions. I recommend that (EU summit) endorses this deal."

READ: Brexit on Oct 31 a 'priority' for British government: Queen

He made the announcement shortly before a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels.

Mr Juncker also congratulated Mr Johnson on their Brexit deal and said it meant no more delay is necessary.

"We have a deal, and this deal means there is no need for any kind of prolongation," Juncker told reporters as he welcomed the British leader to EU headquarters ahead of summit talks.

Mr Johnson tweeted: "We’ve got a great new deal that takes back control - now parliament should get Brexit done on Saturday so we can move on to other priorities like the cost of living, the NHS, violent crime and our environment."

Britain and the EU have been racing to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement in time for an Oct 31 Brexit, which is the deadline that Mr Johnson has set to leave. The deal will need to be approved by the European parliament before it comes before UK parliament.

It is not clear how many of Johnson's Conservative MPs will back the deal, and if the British opposition could vote it down or attempt to force a nationwide referendum to approve or reject it.

Before setting off for Brussels, German Chancellor Angela Merkel noted approvingly that London had been ready to negotiate and put "concrete proposals on the table".

Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier said: "We have managed to find solutions that fully respect the integrity of the single market.

"We created a new and legally operative solution to avoid a hard border, and protect peace and stability on the island of Ireland," he said.

"It is a solution that works for the EU, for the UK and for people and businesses in Northern Ireland."

READ: Commentary: Why Brexit was doomed from the start

CORBYN, DUP OPPOSITION

After days of talks with Johnson, the DUP said they could not support the deal because it was not in the British province's interests.

Under the new agreement, Northern Ireland would remain in the UK customs area but tariffs would apply on goods crossing from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland if they were deemed to be headed further, to Ireland and the bloc's single market.

The DUP said the customs arrangement was not acceptable within the internal borders of the United Kingdom and there was a danger that over time, Northern Ireland would start to diverge on value-added tax as well.

The arrangement "drives a coach and horses through the professed sanctity of the Belfast Agreement", it said, referring to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ended 30 years of sectarian conflict in the province.

The conundrum for Brexit negotiators has been how to prevent the border between Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland becoming a backdoor into the EU's single market without erecting checkpoints that could undermine two decades of peace.

The DUP said that, while the new deal marked progress in giving Northern Ireland politicians a say on future customs arrangements, it also opposed allowing them to do so via a simple majority in the currently suspended local parliament rather than needing the support of both pro-British and Irish nationalist parties.

Unionist politicians, including smaller parties who are also opposed to the Brexit deal, lost their majority in Northern Ireland for the first time since the partition of Ireland in 1921 at the last local assembly election in 2017.

Sinn Fein, the largest Irish nationalist party in the assembly, welcomed the agreement and the fact that no one community would be given a veto.

The DUP added that Saturday's vote on the proposals in the British parliament "will only be the start of a long process to get any Withdrawal Agreement Bill through the House of Commons".

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn was also unhappy with the deal, stating Mr Johnson had negotiated an “even worse deal” than that which previous prime minister Theresa May had achieved. Mrs May’s Brexit deal was overwhelming rejected by the UK parliament, which eventually led to her resignation.

Mr Corbyn said the accord "won't bring the country together and should be rejected", adding: "The best way to get Brexit sorted is to give the people the final say in a public vote."

EU negotiator Michel Barnier was to give a news conference to outline more details of the deal.

But one EU source told AFP the agreement "is politically fragile in London" because of Johnson's reliance on votes from the DUP and Conservative eurosceptics.

The leaders also hope the summit will rise above the Brexit mire and focus on the EU budget debate, bids by North Macedonia and Albania to start talks to join the bloc, and the crisis in relations with Turkey.

The Brexit issue is first on the agenda, with the EU's 27 other leaders to hear Johnson speak then retire to mull their response. But the issue could be delayed to Friday if the deal text needs more work.

Source: AFP/reuters/aa(mi)

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