Brexit breakthrough as UK and EU agree deal ‘in principle’ on Northern Ireland protocol

The EU and the UK have agreed a deal on the fraught issue of the Northern Ireland border after months of confusion about how the Brexit withdrawal agreement should be implemented.

Under the agreement, the British government has agreed to withdraw clauses from its taxation and internal market bills that would have breached international law by giving it the power to unilaterally overwrite the deal.

The positive news comes ahead of a meeting between Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen later this week to try and solve the remaining issues on trade.

The side negotiations are separate from the stalled discussions about a free trade agreement, but the EU had previously said the UK proceeding with its plan would make a trade deal impossible.

European Commission vice president Maroš Šefčovič, who led joint committee negotiations on the EU side, said: “Thanks to hard work Michael Gove  and I have reached an agreement in principle on all issues relating to the  Withdrawal Agreement implementation. This will ensure it is fully operational as of 1 Jan, including the protocol on Ireland/NI.”

Mr Gove, who led on the UK side, thanked the EU team “for their constructive and pragmatic approach” and said he would update parliament on Wednesday.

The agreement concerns “practical arrangements regarding the EU’s presence in Northern Ireland”, which goods will be considered “not at risk” of smuggling, and the imposition of export and import controls.

The exact details of the deal are expected to be laid before parliament on Wednesday.

A joint statement on the government website said: “In view of these mutually agreed solutions, the UK will withdraw clauses 44, 45 and 47 of the UK Internal Market Bill, and not introduce any similar provisions in the Taxation Bill.”

Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney described the deal as “good progress” and said it would “finally provide some certainty on implementation of Brexit protocol in Northern Ireland”.

“Practical cooperation and flexibility has been agreed to make it as manageable as possible for people and businesses,” he said.

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