Breakthrough In Brexit Talks

Dec 8, 2017
Originally published on December 8, 2017 10:21 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And it looks like there has been a Brexit breakthrough in Europe. The United Kingdom and the EU have reached a tentative deal that would now let them move forward with talks over trade. NPR's Frank Langfitt has more from London.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: The biggest sticking point was the future of the Irish border, which today is wide open. The fear - when the UK leaves the European Union, customs posts would go up, dividing Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to the south, slowing trade and perhaps jeopardizing the 1998 Belfast peace agreement that ended the violent struggle known as The Troubles. Prime Minister Theresa May said the U.K. wouldn't let that happen.

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PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: In Northern Ireland, we will guarantee there will be no hard border. And we will uphold the Belfast Agreement. And in doing so, we will continue to preserve the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom.

LANGFITT: May was pledging not to sell out Northern Ireland, which is a part of the United Kingdom. There's been deep concern in Northern Ireland that the government in London would create customs checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. Earlier this week, Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party scuttled a deal because of these fears. Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, explained from Dublin.

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PRIME MINISTER LEO VARADKAR: The United Kingdom government will ensure that Northern Ireland business will continue to have unfettered access to the whole of the U.K. and that no new barriers will develop between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Northern Ireland and Great Britain will not drift apart.

LANGFITT: Today's agreement is crucial to the United Kingdom. The decision to leave the European Union has already taken a toll on the country's economy. And building a new trade relationship with the EU, the world's largest collective market, is critical to mitigating that damage. Donald Tusk, head of the European Council, emphasized that there was still an enormous amount of work to do.

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DONALD TUSK: Let us remember that the most difficult challenge is still ahead. We all know that breaking up is hard. But breaking up and building a new relation is much harder.

LANGFITT: Frank Langfitt, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.