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Deal reached for Northern Ireland power-sharing talks

The public clamour for political progress following the killing of the journalist Lyra McKee encouraged both governments to launch a fresh attempt to restore power sharing in Northern Ireland, they said in a statement released on Friday afternoon. We agree that what is now needed is actions and not just words from all of us who are in positions of leadership.” The new process would involve all the main political parties in Northern Ireland, together with the UK and Irish governments, it said. Theprime minister and taoiseach, who both attended McKee’s funeral in Belfast on Wednesday, also agreed that there should be a meeting of the British-Irish intergovernmental conference to consider east-west relations, security cooperation and political stability in Northern Ireland. What is the New IRA? It has been linked with four murders, including the shooting of journalist Lyra McKee in Derry in April 2019. The group is believed to have formed between 2011 and 2012 after the merger of a number of smaller groups, including the Real IRA, which was behind the 1998 Omagh bombing. She said the DUP could not accede to all Sinn Féin demands, describing such a scenario as a “5-0 victory”. McDonald, speaking in a separate media interview, said Sinn Féin would not “capitulate” on an Irish language act, saying there was nothing trivial about insisting on equality and rights. Smaller parties are keen to return to Stormont. “There is no issue more important than political stability.”

Brexit adds to Northern Ireland’s broken politics

The main achievement of the Good Friday Agreement — the creation of power-sharing institutions — is not just unwell, but perhaps terminally ill. Like few places on earth, Northern Ireland lives its history. Stay at the multimillion pound Radisson Blu hotel in downtown Belfast and an Irish tricolor can be seen, stuck in a window of a flat in the “Markets” area — an Irish Catholic ghetto surrounded by Britishness and a derelict patch of grass. Politically, it is more Balkan than British or Irish. It created a land where you could be Irish or British — or both. “Politics here are based on allegiance and identity," wrote the columnist Brian Feeney in the Irish News last week, days before the shooting of journalist Lyra McKee in Derry/Londonderry on Thursday night. Look, it’s not going to happen.” The New IRA admitted responsibility for the killing on Monday — albeit with "full and sincere apologies" — a sign of the deadly tensions that are still simmering in Northern Ireland. The backstop, which aims to ensure no border controls are needed, treats Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the U.K., raising unionist fears that it is the start of the slow drift to Irish reunification — and the dominance of Irish nationalists over Ulster unionists. The old leaders who guided the peace process to its conclusion — and may have had the power and authority to save it now — are gone. Northern Ireland is not well. Sign up here.

No guarantee EU would grant long article 50 extension, says Macron

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has said it should not be taken for granted that the EU would grant the UK a long extension on its departure from the bloc. Welcoming Ireland’s Leo Varadkar to Paris for talks at the Élysée on Tuesday, Macron said that as the clock ticked down and a no-deal Brexit became more likely, it was far from evident that the EU would agree to a British request for a further article 50 extension. “A long extension, implying the UK takes part in European elections and European institutions, has nothing easy or automatic about it,” Macron said. “I say that again very strongly. Our priority must be the good functioning of the EU and the single market. The EU can’t be held hostage long-term by the resolution of a political crisis in the UK.” No-deal Brexit more likely by the day, says Michel Barnier Read more He continued: “The three times rejection of the withdrawal agreement by the House of Commons and the rejection of all alternative plans now puts us on the path of a UK exit without a deal. “As the European council decided in March, it’s now up to the UK to present a credible alternative plan backed by a majority before 10 April in order to avoid that. Publicly, he has positioned France as the toughest-talking nation in the Brexit saga, stressing the need for the UK to present a way forward. Macron said the EU’s priority was protecting its workings and the single market: “We have a future to build together in the EU and a future relationship to build with the UK, which will be an ally, but we can’t spend the next months still trying to fix the rules of our divorce and looking to the past.” Macron met Varadkar, the Irish taoiseach, to discuss no-deal plans for the Irish border as well as how to handle any extension request from Theresa May. Macron said the EU had total “unity and solidarity” with Ireland.

Revised Brexit deal does not undermine backstop, says Irish PM

Quick guide Last-minute backstop changes explained What was added to May's withdrawal agreement? It gives legal force to a letter from Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, the presidents of the commission and council, given to May in January. This stated the EU’s intention to negotiate an alternative to the backstop so it would not be triggered, or, if it was triggered, to get out of it as quickly as possible. Unilateral statement from the UK Sets out the British position that, if the backstop was to become permanent and talks on an alternative were going nowhere, the UK believes it would be able to exit the arrangement. Hoped to be enough to persuade the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, to change his initial legal advice that the backstop could be in place indefinitely. Daniel Boffey Was this helpful? Thank you for your feedback. He echoed Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, in saying that a freshly negotiated legal add-on to the Brexit deal was “complementary” and not a rewrite. It says that we will work together, in good faith, in pursuit of a future relationship that ensures that the objectives of the protocol, particularly the need to avoid a hard border, are met.” Varadkar read from a prepared statement and did not take questions, reflecting the Irish government’s desire to project a sober tone and not say anything to complicate Theresa May’s uphill battle to get the deal through Westminster. Those doubts and fears can now be put to bed.” Varadkar was at Dublin airport preparing to fly to Washington on Monday night but returned to government buildings for a late-night cabinet meeting.

May to promise Brexit deal that Northern Ireland can support

The prime minister is due to chair a cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning before departing for a two-day visit to Northern Ireland to underscore her commitment to avoiding a hard border with Ireland. Read more She is expected to say: “I know this is a concerning time for many people here in Northern Ireland. But we will find a way to deliver Brexit that honours our commitments to Northern Ireland … that commands broad support across the community in Northern Ireland … and that secures a majority in the Westminster parliament.” Privately, however, there is scepticism within the government about the possibility of a breakthrough before May returns to parliament to make a statement about her Brexit plans on 13 February. The prime minister’s withdrawal agreement faces a new problem in the shape of a potential legal challenge by one of the architects of the Good Friday agreement. The group was created after Tory MPs from the leave and remain camps came together to promote the Malthouse compromise, which involves a longer transition period while alternatives to the backstop are explored. The resulting 'Malthouse compromise' involves redrafting the backstop arrangement for the Irish border which is so unpopular with Conservative Eurosceptic MPs and the Democratic Unionist party, which props up the government. It would also extend the transition period, set out under the previously negotiated withdrawal agreement, until the end of 2021. If the attempt to renegotiate the backstop fails, the Malthouse compromise proposes what amounts to a managed no deal. Before MPs voted for that amendment and against others, Theresa May praised the Malthouse compromise. The Northern Ireland minister, John Penrose, told Cable in a written parliamentary answer that his department had not allocated any funding for no-deal preparations, adding: “A number of staff across the department work on both EU exit and non-EU exit related work.” Cable said: “If the government is serious about letting Britain crash out of the EU, there should be a dedicated unit in the Northern Ireland Office, preparing for this eventuality.

Sunday politics: Liam Fox says no-deal is ‘survivable’ but not in best interests

"there's Conservatives as well, it's not just the Labour Party. I think as of now they are basically working with us to stop Brexit, to try and get a People's Vote. Liam Fox: To extend because we don't have an agreement is not acceptable Dr Fox said there should not be an extension to Article 50 simply because there wasn't a deal on the table with the EU. 'A no deal Brexit is an uncertainty that is completely unacceptable for all sorts of people' - Shadow Attorney General Shami Chakrabarti reacts to Nissan cancelling plans to build a new model in Sunderland.#Ridge For more, head here: https://t.co/KxKLJs9ljT pic.twitter.com/i4BpO9OPm8 — Ridge on Sunday (@RidgeOnSunday) February 3, 2019 Liam Fox: Ireland must negotiate Earlier in the show, Liam Fox spoke to Sophy Ridge about the ongoing discussions and the issue of the hard border on the island of Ireland. 'Agriculture and food is always the last chapter in any trade deal to be agreed' - National Farmers' Union president @Minette_Batters says agriculture has to be part of any free trade agreement with the EU. Minette Batters: No-deal is huge for every single person 'Post-Brexit we could have been producing much more of our fruit and veg at home' - National Farmers' Union president @Minette_Batters says farmers reliance on seasonal workers has been put in jeopardy by Brexit. "We would see a long term future of bringing cheap food in. Liam Fox: MPs might have a tough time keeping seats Dr Fox told Sophy Ridge: "Theresa May has negotiated not only with Brussels but her own party. Those who were elected on it and don't carry it through will have a difficult time in the next election and I think they deserve it." Vince Cable on the potential plot for a new party Liam Fox: Talks will continue He said: "We continue to talk to European partners to get an agreement, and as quickly as possible.

Brexit backstop amendment would give May ‘enormous firepower’

Theresa May would go back to Brussels with “enormous firepower” to renegotiate her Brexit deal if the Commons backed an amendment watering down the Irish backstop provision, a senior Conservative backbencher has said before a crucial series of votes. Blow for May as Ireland stresses it will not yield on Brexit backstop Read more Graham Brady said he was hopeful of ministerial support for his amendment, which says the backstop should be replaced by “alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border”, even though Ireland has repeatedly stressed such a change cannot happen. There is speculation that the government could formally back Brady’s amendment, which is intended to bring back onboard the many Conservative and DUP MPs who voted against May’s Brexit plan when it was overwhelmingly defeated in the Commons earlier this month. The vote against May’s deal “didn’t necessarily indicate that the agreement is dead”, Brady, who chairs the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers, told Today, just that MPs had “a very, very fundamental problem” with the backstop. Brady said his amendment was intended to break the impasse: “I’m hoping that the way in which the amendment is crafted can attract that very broad support. And if we can win the vote on my amendment, then I think it gives the prime minister enormous firepower when she goes back. Brady agreed that the change must be legally binding, adding: “I don’t think anybody’s going to accept something which is just warm words.” The Cooper and Boles plan seems set to get formal support from Labour, but the government is unlikely to allow ministers a free vote. This is probably the only opportunity parliament is going to have to intervene in this process, to take control.” He added: “29 March is an entirely arbitrary date, just two years on from when we sent the letter. And the truth is the prime minister has wasted time. She delayed the vote by a whole month over Christmas and New Year, as she thought she would lose it.

No-deal Brexit would mean hard Irish border, EU confirms

The EU has put further pressure on the Brexit talks by confirming it will enforce a hard border on the island of Ireland in the event of a no-deal outcome, despite the risk this would pose to peace. But the Juncker’s spokesman said on Tuesday the likely enforcement of border checks could not be avoided. Of course we stand behind the Good Friday agreement, but that is what no-deal would entail.” How four different customs union options led to the Irish border backstop compromise customs union Red line for DUP No need for Irish border checks, but checks needed on goods moving between NI and the UK Border in the Irish sea UK-NI customs union (soft border) Red line for Brussels Lack of checks on Irish border leaves a back door to the EU single market UK-NI customs union (hard border) Red line for Dublin Hard border to preserve integrity of EU single market contravenes Good Friday agreement customs union Red line for DUP No need for Irish border checks, but checks needed on goods moving between NI and the UK UK-NI customs union (soft border) Red line for Brussels Lack of checks on Irish border leaves a back door to the EU single market UK-NI customs union (hard border) Red line for Dublin Hard border to preserve integrity of EU single market contravenes Good Friday agreement Border in the Irish sea Guardian graphic In the Irish parliament, the prime minister, Leo Varadkar, responded by insisting an arrangement similar to the Irish backstop would still have to be negotiated if the Brexit deal failed to get through the UK parliament. “We already have that agreement. It is the backstop … We have a proposal that does work. We are under no illusions about how challenging that would be.” The Democratic Unionist party’s Brexit spokesman, Sammy Wilson, dismissed the remarks by Juncker’s spokesman. “We have to be firm and flexible at the same time,” Verhofstadt told MEPs. But he ruled out any changes to the withdrawal agreement, including the backstop.

UK will stay in customs union without fishing deal, says Macron

As the 27 EU heads of state and government took a decisive step towards sealing the terms of Britain’s split from Brussels after 45 years of membership, the French president laid down his red lines in the talks over the future relationship. I can’t imagine that the desire of Theresa May or her supporters is to remain for the long term in a customs union, but to define a proper future relationship which resolves this problem.” Play Video 1:14 He added: “We will concentrate our efforts in order to obtain access to the British waters before the end of the transition period. Juncker warned British MPs planning to send May back to Brussels by voting down her Brexit deal that it would take the EU just “seconds” to crush their hopes. “Those who think that by rejecting the deal that they would have a better deal will be disappointed in the first seconds after the rejection of this deal.” Not sad but defiant: Theresa May makes case for Brexit deal Read more “I am inviting those who have to ratify this deal in the House of Commons to take this into consideration: this is the best deal possible for Britain, this is the best deal possible for Europe,” he added. If MPs reject the deal, there are seven possible paths the country could go down next. MPs knuckle under and vote it through. Labour tries to force an election The opposition tables a vote of no confidence. Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, said leaders had made a “conscious decision” not to discuss an alternative to the deal, adding it was a case of “this deal or no deal”. Asked if there was any divergence in views within the EU, an official said Juncker’s comments had been a “very realistic assessment that after this tortuous and long negotiation that what is on the table is the only possible deal given the positions of the UK”, in a possible indication that only a major shift in the British government’s red lines could offer hope of further negotiations. The agreement had appeared at risk in the days leading up to the summit, when Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, threatened to withhold support unless Britain conceded that the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, over which Spain has a long-running territorial claim, would be covered by a future trade deal only with Madrid’s consent.

UK won’t be seen as ‘reliable partner’ for trade if it refuses to pay...

Philip Hammond, the chancellor, has said that if the UK were to follow the advice of some Brexiters and refuse to pay anything to the EU in the event of a no deal Brexit, it would not be seen as a reliable partner for international trade. Philip Hammond told the committee earlier that, if the UK refused to pay anything to the EU in the event of a no deal Brexit - an option proposed by some Brexiters - it would not be seen as a reliable partner in future trade deals. No, says Hammond. No, says Hammond. Q: Why did you implement the tax cuts a year earlier than promised in the Tory manifesto? Hammond says the UK would have some leverage, in terms of when money was paid. Q: If there is a no deal Brexit, will all the budget spending commitments be honoured? Hammond suggests that, if there is no Brexit deal, spending commitments made in this year’s budget could be abandoned. But he told the House of Commons Treasury committee that the goal of balancing the nation’s books was “within touching distance”, with the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasting the deficit will be trimmed to 0.8% of GDP by 2023/24. Rather than making reducing the deficit the overriding goal of economic policy, it would be a matter for the chancellor at each budget over the next few years to strike a balance between getting borrowing down and other priorities like cutting taxes, increasing public spending and investing in the national infrastructure, he suggested.