Deal reached for Northern Ireland power-sharing talks

Locked gates at Stormont in Belfast

An agreement has been reached to establish a new round of talks involving all the main political parties in Northern Ireland, the UK and Irish prime ministers, Theresa May and Leo Varadkar, have said in a joint statement.

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.

“In coming together with other political leaders in St Anne’s Cathedral to pay tribute to Lyra McKee, we gave expression to the clear will and determination of all of the people of these islands to reject violence and to support peace and a better future for everyone in Northern Ireland,” the statement said.

“We also heard the unmistakable message to all political leaders that people across Northern Ireland want to see a new momentum for political progress. 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.

“The aim of these talks is quickly to re-establish to full operation the democratic institutions of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement – the NI executive, assembly and north-south ministerial council – so that they can effectively serve all of the people for the future.”

The Northern Ireland secretary, Karen Bradley and the Irish foreign minister, Simon Coveney were due to unveil details at a joint press conference in Belfast later on Friday.

The announcement comes a week after the killing of McKee, which has sparked widespread calls to end the political impasse that has left Northern Ireland without a functioning government for more than 800 days.

Bradley and Coveney will ask political parties to resume talks at Stormont, the site of the mothballed assembly, “as soon as possible” after local elections on 2 May, according to the statement from May and Varadkar.

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,…

Brexit adds to Northern Ireland’s broken politics

Floral tributes for journalist Lyra McKee, whose death the New IRA claimed responsibility for. | Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images

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.

It is everywhere — on street signs, radio phone-ins, murals and marches. Like poisonous gas, it is inescapable: directing daily life. It determines whom you vote for, what sport you play, which part of the city you live in.

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. On the other side of the hotel, five minutes from the Markets, a giant Union flag mural welcomes (warns) visitors that they are entering the loyalist Donegall Pass area of town.

It is a society like no other in Western Europe. Different rules apply. Politically, it is more Balkan than British or Irish.

The 1998 Good Friday Agreement recognized this reality and sought a political system that could be all things to all people. Power was shared, with vetoes for both communities. The union with Great Britain maintained — even strengthened politically — but all-Ireland institutions created and nationalist rights guaranteed.

It created a land where you could be Irish or British — or both. You could shop on one side of the border and use the free NHS on the other.

It did not, however, change the fundamentals.

“Politics here are…

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

Leo Varadkar and Emmanuel 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.”

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…

Revised Brexit deal does not undermine backstop, says Irish PM

Leo Varadkar makes a statement regarding Brexit in Dublin on Tuesday

The Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, has said the revised Brexit deal does not undermine the backstop nor reopen the withdrawal agreement.

The backstop – an insurance policy to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland – will continue to apply “unless and until” it is replaced by future arrangements that ensure no hard border, he said in a statement on Tuesday morning.

Quick guide

Last-minute backstop changes explained

What was added to May’s withdrawal agreement?

Joint interpretative instrument

A legal add-on to the 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.

Additional language in political declaration

Emphasises the urgency felt on both sides to negotiate an alternative to the backstop, and flesh out what a technological fix would look like. 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

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Addressing the media in Dublin, the taoiseach welcomed the agreement reached between the UK…

May to promise Brexit deal that Northern Ireland can support

Members of Sinn Féin hold posters during a recent protest against Brexit outside Stormont in Belfast.

Theresa May will attempt to reassure businesses and Northern Irish politicians by insisting during a visit to Belfast that she can find a way to deliver a Brexit deal MPs 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.

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. “She’s just burning down the clock,” said one cabinet source.

Downing Street said it was still planning to give MPs the chance to vote on the government’s intentions on 14 February after rumours in Westminster suggested it could be pushed back into the following week. “That’s the deadline we’re working to,” said a government source.

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.

David Trimble, the leader of the Ulster Unionist party when the peace deal was signed, confirmed that he and others were considering legal action over the backstop provisions in the withdrawal agreement.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “We are exploring this possibility and we are concerned at the way in which the withdrawal agreement that our prime minister agreed actually turns the Belfast agreement on its head and does serious damage to it.”

He explained: “The EU has come in this exit agreement [and] stripped a significant number of competencies out of the devolved administration and put in place a number of top-down structures, and a UK/EU body which is going to supervise. The success of the [Good Friday] agreement is largely because it was bottom up.”

While May is in Belfast – where she is also expected to meet…

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

Liam Fox told Sophie Ridge that a no deal Brexit is 'survivable' but not in the UK's best interest
Liam Fox told Sophie Ridge that a no deal Brexit is ‘survivable’ but not in the UK’s best interest

Key points:

  • Theresa May promises to ‘battle for Britain’ as she returns to Brussels
  • She faces new pressure to abandon no-deal plans for Brexit
  • Liam Fox tells Sophy Ridge no-deal is “survivable”

“We won’t take border clash on the chin” – Sinn Fein reopens Ireland debate

Mary Lou McDonald said: “As the Brexit drama comes to a climax, we have to accept there is a possibility, if not a probability, of a hard Brexit crash and in those circumstances, we believe that the disruption and damage to the island of Ireland would be such that, don’t imagine that we will philosophically take it on the chin.

“Put simply, if the border in Ireland cannot be mitigated, cannot be managed in the short term, well then you put the question democratically in the hands of the people and allow them to remove the border.

“Bear in mind the people of Northern Ireland did not consent to Brexit.”

‘No one will tolerate a hard border on our island’

Mary Lou McDonald, leader of Sinn Fein, tells Andrew Marr that a hard border would not be tolerated.

“It would be grossly wreckless for the Tories in London to play chicken with that process.

“We are resolute on this side of the pond, there will be no hard border.

“Peace is a precious thing, which we have built collectively, and shame on anyone who would play games with that. There is hot air and high rhetoric around the backstop but it’s a simple process to protect the peace.”

Is Liam Fox prepared to delay Brexit in the right circumstances?

There has been speculation that Article 50 will have to be extended to allow a deal to be reached with the European Union.

He told Sophy Ridge he would not accept time extension in the context of not having a deal at all, but it’s a “very different argument” if there’s time needed for more legislation.

But he cautioned against relying on World Trade Organisation terms, which is what Britain will revert to trading on if no deal is reached.

He said: “If WTO was so good people wouldn’t be looking to have trade agreements or customs unions which are ways in which you can further improve on those WTO rules.

“It has always seemed to me a bit strange that people would say ‘well we don’t need to worry about having a future trade deal with Europe, we can operate on WTO terms’, while at the same time saying we should have a free trade agreement with the United States to get away from WTO rules. We have to be consistent.”

Is there going to be a new party formed?

According to The Observer, there are six MPs in Labour preparing to quit the party and form a centre group.

Sophy Ridge asked Lib Dem leader Vince Cable whether his party had been approached about the potential for a new party and what he thought.

He said: “Yes, indeed, it’s well reported for months that there is actually a much bigger group of Labour MPs, not just six, who are deeply unhappy with (Jeremy) Corbyn’s leadership and don’t see any future (in the Labour Party).

“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. There is a very strong group of people working as a team to try and deliver that.

“I think when the Brexit issue is resolved one way or another, I think they will reconsider their position in the Labour Party.

“I can’t predict exactly what will happen but I think there’s a real chance of a significant group breaking away and if that happens we will work with them in some form.”

He said the Lib Dems would not be “subsumed” into another party but would be happy to work with one.

Mr Cable said: “There are all kind of possibilities but I think where there are common values we will operate together.

“It’s very difficult to set up a new party under the first past the post system, I think they recognise that and it will be sensible if we do have common values and common interests that we work together in some way, but that’s some way down the track.”

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.

He added that if there was an extension to enable the final details to be dealt with, that was a different set of events to coming up with a deal at all.

He said we have to guard again irrational pessimism and irrational optimism.

Dr Fox said: “There would be disruption to our trade but it would be survivable. We wouldn’t want to put our economy into a position of unnecessary turmoil.”

‘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.

He said: “If Ireland won’t negotiate, they might get no-deal. The EU said no-deal is the best route to get a hard border.

“For the Irish it’s more important than most to talk to us about the alternative ways to avoid a hard border.”

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said he backed the prime minister in the Brexit negotiations.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said he backed the prime minister in the Brexit negotiations.

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Shaun Bailey: Conservative candidate for London Mayoral election

The candidate is being challenged on his 2005 comments about girls who “appeal to all” and “tend…

Brexit backstop amendment would give May ‘enormous firepower’

Sir Graham Brady

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.

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.

His is among a series of amendments intended to change the backstop that could be picked for voting on Tuesday night. Another group aims to prevent the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, if agreement cannot be reached in time.

The most prominent of the amendments, tabled by the Labour MP Yvette Cooper, would oblige the government to extend the Brexit deadline if an agreement had not been struck by the end of next month.

Nick Boles, the Tory backbencher who is pushing for the plan alongside Cooper, argued on Monday it was vital this amendment attract enough support to be passed.

“If we don’t seize the moment tomorrow afternoon then we’re at grave risk of just driving off the edge on 29 March, without really wanting to, and when there might be a compromise that we could achieve if had a few more months,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

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.

Much of the opposition centred around the backstop, the indefinite insurance policy that would keep Northern Ireland in customs alignment with the Irish Republic to…

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

A lorry crosses the border in Newry, Northern Ireland

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.

In comments that proved highly uncomfortable for Dublin, the chief spokesman for Jean-Claude Juncker the European commission president, told reporters in Brussels it was “pretty obvious” border infrastructure would be necessary if the UK were to leave without an agreement.

The Irish and British governments have been wary of speculating about the repercussions of the UK leaving the EU with no deal in place.

Ireland’s deputy prime minister, Simon Coveney, was caught on tape last week indicating his fellow ministers should not talk about the resumption of border checks publicly for fear of a backlash.

In a private conversation, he told the Irish transport minister, Shane Ross, “once you start talking about checks anywhere near the border, people will start delving into that and all of a sudden we’ll be the government that reintroduced a physical border on the island of Ireland”.

But the Juncker’s spokesman said on Tuesday the likely enforcement of border checks could not be avoided.

“If you were to push me to speculate on what might happen in a no-deal scenario in Ireland, I think it is pretty obvious you will have a hard border, and our commitments to the Good Friday agreement and everything we have been doing for years with our tools, instruments and programmes will have to take inevitably into account this fact,” he said.

“So of course we are for peace. 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

EU-UK

customs union

Red line for May

No need for Irish

border checks

EU-NI

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

EU-UK

customs union

Red line for May

No need for Irish

border checks

EU-NI

customs union

Red line for DUP

No…

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

Emmanuel Macron at a news conference after the special EU summit.

Emmanuel Macron has said the UK will be trapped in a customs union after Brexit unless Downing Street offers European fishermen full access to British waters during the coming trade negotiations.

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.

Macron said the EU’s demands on fisheries needed swift resolution after 29 March 2019 or the talks on a wider trade deal would fail leaving the UK in the “backstop” customs union envisioned in the withdrawal agreement.

Under the terms of Theresa May’s Brexit deal, to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, the UK will stay in a customs union after a 21-month transition period if a wider trade deal is not ready to come into force.

“We as 27 have a clear position on fair competition, on fish, on the subject of the EU’s regulatory autonomy, and that forms part of our lines for the future relationship talks,” Macron said.

“It is a lever, because it is in our mutual interest to have this 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
‘The best deal possible’: EU leaders back Theresa May in Brussels – video

He added: “We will concentrate our efforts in order to obtain access to the British waters before the end of the transition period. And of course all of our fishermen will be protected.”

Earlier in the day, at a special Brexit summit in Brussels, the leaders of the 27 member states unanimously backed the terms of the voluminous draft withdrawal treaty, covering citizens’ rights, the £39bn divorce bill and the solution for the Irish border, along with a 26-page political declaration setting out the basis of the future relationship.

The European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker congratulated the member states on maintaining their unity during the 18 months of talks despite “pressure from the UK”, but his focus during an end-of-summit press conference was on sending a message to the UK parliament.

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.

In an uncompromising and direct message to Westminster, the commission president claimed the bloc had made its final offer.

“I am totally convinced that this is the only deal possible,” Juncker said. “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.”

“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. “This is the only deal possible – the only deal possible.”

Quick guide

What happens next if May’s Brexit deal is voted down?

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If…

UK won’t be seen as ‘reliable partner’ for trade if it refuses to pay EU after no deal Brexit, Hammond says – Politics live

That’s all from me.

Thanks for the comments.

This is from HuffPost’s Paul Waugh.

(@paulwaugh)

Brexiteer backbencher @SimonClarkeMP asks Hammond isn’t it the truth that your own preference is to stay in the Customs Union?”That’s not the Government’s position,” Hammond replies. Make of that answer what you will…

  • Hammond refuses to deny that he would prefer the UK to stay in the customs union. This is not hugely surprising, because Hammond voted remain and it is probably true that his real preference would be for the UK to stay in the EU altogether.

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. He told the committee:

What I can share with you is the advice from Treasury legal counsel. To the extent that we are in the settlement provisionally agreed, subject to everything being agreed with the European Union, we are making good on commitments that have been entered into with the EU’s acquiescence during our period of membership of the European Union. These are obligations that we entered into and they are obligations that will be due in any case.

What we have done in the negotiation is reached agreement on a formula for determining a number post-exist which has been agreed by the UK in the context of a deal. And we would not necessarily be prepared to agree that same formula in the context of no deal.

But it would not be plausible or credible for the UK to assert that in the case of no deal, then no money at all was payable in respect of these obligations that were entered into during our period of membership. If we were to do so, we would effectively rule ourselves out as being regarded as reliable partners in future international deals of any kind, including trade deals.

Hammond says the benefit changes announced under George Osborne will continue. The Conservatives said in their 2017 manifesto that they would not revisit them.

Q: Can you remember what child benefit was in 2010?

No, says Hammond.

McGovern says it was £20.30. Now it is £20.70. That is a real terms reduction.

Hammond says, once the benefit freeze is over,…