While I acknowledge the progress made between the UK and EU in the negotiations, significant differences and questions remain unresolved regarding the maintenance of an open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
In many respects, the parties have only agreed to reach an agreement on this matter. The acknowledgment of some agreement of some components of a future deal relating to Ireland belies the continued absence of agreement on the core contradictions in the UK government position.
Therefore, it is hard to see how this issue has been significantly advanced from the EU-UK Joint Report from December 2017.
While it is encouraging both sides remain committed to this text and its associated objectives, there is still no indication the UK government has reached any understanding of what is required to turn this into practice.
The central trilemma remains. The UK is simultaneously committed to an open border in Ireland, to leaving both the single market and the customs union, and opposing special arrangements for Northern Ireland. The hopes of a technical solution within a realistic timescale have been increasingly debunked, including most recently by the NI Affairs Committee.
It is increasingly clear it is only through the UK as whole remaining in a customs union and at least Northern Ireland in the single market that physical borders can be avoided within these islands.
Today’s draft agreement on transitional arrangements is supposed to give businesses some degree of short-term reassurance. However, as long as there remains uncertainty over the Irish border question, this poses a risk the transition arrangements could unravel alongside the rest of the withdrawal treaty.
Stephen Farry MLA, Alliance Brexit spokesperson