Brexit – a new deal reached?

A revised Brexit deal has been agreed between the negotiating teams of the United Kingdom and the European Union ahead of a meeting of European leaders in Brussels. It will still need the approval of both UK and EU Parliaments – which means another vote on a Brexit deal by MPs.

All sides want to avoid the return of a "hard border" between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland - with checks and infrastructure which could be targeted by paramilitary groups. Coming up with solutions to this – that all sides are happy with - has been a key sticking point in the negotiations.

The new protocol replaces the controversial Irish backstop plan in Theresa May's deal. Much of the rest of that deal will remain.

How has the Irish Backstop been addressed?

The whole of the UK will leave the EU customs union. Therefore, the UK will be able to negotiate trade deals with other countries in the future. There will be a legal customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which is part of the EU. But in practice the customs border will be between Great Britain and the island of Ireland, with goods being checked at Northern Irish ports. Duty won't automatically have to be paid on goods coming into Northern Ireland from Great Britain. But where something is "at risk" of then being transported into the Republic of Ireland (which is part of the EU customs union), duty will be paid. A joint committee made up of UK and EU representatives will decide at a later date what goods should be on the list.

All this will be enforced by UK officials at Northern Ireland ports, but the EU will have a right to have their own officials present.#

Because Northern Ireland will be set apart from the rest of the UK when it comes to customs and other EU rules, the deal gives its assembly a chance to vote on these provisions.

After four years, Northern Ireland will have the opportunity to vote on customs and state aid rules.

If the Northern Irish Assembly votes against them, they would lose force two years later during which time the "joint committee" would make recommendations to the UK and EU on "necessary measures".

If the Assembly accepts the continuing provisions by a simple majority, they will then apply for another four years. If the deal has "cross-community support" then they will apply for eight years, or until a new agreement on the future relationship is reached if that comes sooner.

The deal defines cross-community support as at least 51% each of unionist and nationalist Assembly members voting in favour, or at least 40% of members from each designation if in total at least 60% of members have voted in favour.

The new agreement says that EU law on value added tax (VAT - a tax added when you make purchases) will apply in Northern Ireland, but only on goods, not services.

But it also allows Northern Ireland to have different VAT rates to the rest of the UK, which would not normally be allowed under EU law.

The Government has made it clear that the UK will leave the EU on 31st of October, with or without a deal. I hope my parliamentary colleagues will also support the deal as voting against a deal leads to a no-deal scenario, something we all want to avoid.

By securing this deal the Government has helped establish a future relationship of cooperation and trade and will be honouring the result of the 2016 referendum where the British people voted to leave the EU.