Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking at a press conference earlier today. RollingNews.ie photo.
By Ray O’Hanlon
The week opened badly for the effort to forge a Brexit deal between the UK and EU that would not result in the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland.
The week has ended on a softer note with an agreement which, according to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, will see Brexit take place minus a return of said hard border.
According to reports, the European Commission is to recommend to EU leaders that Brexit talks with the UK move on to the second phase, this after renewed talks between British Prime Minister Theresa May and Commission President Jean-Claude Junker that served up a solution to the earlier impasse on the border issue.
“I'd like people in Northern Ireland to set aside historical differences and see it's a very good outcome,” said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar who, perhaps not choosing the most suitable words, described the deal as being “politically bulletproof” when it came to the post-Brexit border between the North and the Republic.
Sticking with a hard and metallic verdict on the deal – as opposed, presumably, to the actual soft future border - Mr. Varadkar further described the pact as “rock solid and cast iron.”
The new agreement, said reports, promises to ensure there will be no hard border, including any physical infrastructure, or related checks and controls.
The Good Friday Agreement is also to be preserved intact.
The agreement does, however, make it plain that the North, along with rest of the UK, will be leaving the EU’s Customs Union.
According to report in the Guardian, the agreement to emerge from the May/Juncker negotiations “leaves unclear how an open border will be achieved, but says in the absence of a later agreement, the UK will ensure ‘full alignment’ with the rules of the customs union and single market that uphold the Belfast Agreement.
“However, the concession secured by the DUP is that no new regulatory barriers will be allowed between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK without the permission of Stormont in the interest of upholding the Belfast Agreement.”
The deal will be discussed at next week's EU Council meeting of heads of government of member states which is expected to sign off on moving into phase two of the Brexit talks.
"We have protected what we sought to protect and we achieved what we sought to achieve," Mr. Varadkar said.
The conclusion of phase one of the Brexit negotiations were a “significant day" for Ireland.
"This is not the end, but it is the end of the beginning," he said, borrowing from Winston Churchill, a firm believer in European Union who would actually be horrified at the very idea of Brexit.
"And we will remain fully engaged and vigilant throughout phase two, the drafting and ratification of the new treaties that will be required between the EU and UK and their implementation," Mr. Varadkar added, borrowing from a more familiar political playbook.
Not surprisingly, the North political parties are taking a more cautious approach.
But none have bolted at this early stage.
Perhaps it was the snow that fell across the island today that softened the political edge to the soft/hard border question.