Caution, optimism, anger and rejection: Mixed reactions to Draft Withdrawal Agreement

Clockwise from top left: EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Sinn Felin Leader Mary Lou McDonald, SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood, and Prime Minister Theresa May with DUP leader Arlene Foster.
Clockwise from top left: EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Sinn Felin Leader Mary Lou McDonald, SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood, and Prime Minister Theresa May with DUP leader Arlene Foster.

The surprise news of a breakthrough in the Brexit talks between Britain and the European Union has been met with caution, optimism and dissent from differing political factions locally.

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood MLA has given a cautious welcome to reports that the two negotiating teams have agreed a text on the border in Ireland, while Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald warned that any agreement must protect Irish interests.

Meanwhile DUP Leader Arlene Foster echoed sentiments expressed by her party’s MPs and hardline Brexiteers within the Conservative Party and elsewhere that the deal - the details of which are yet to be fully released - threatened to weaken the Union.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to meet with her Cabinet today to discuss what has been agreed in principal in the Draft Withdrawal Agreement and to map out a strategy for gathering support from different quarters to get it through the House of Commons - a strategy many commentators think has little chance of success as things stand.

Taisoeach Leo Varadkar is also expected to call a special cabinet meeting today in Dublin.

The news of the breakthrough was broken by RTE’s Europe Editor, Derry man Tony Connolly on Tuesday evening.

Mr Eastwood commented: “The SDLP are glad to hear that an agreement might have been reached and we look forward to reading the text of that agreement in detail.

“If the agreement involves a backstop that protects Ireland from a hard border then we would hope it will gain support in Westminster.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald TD said last night: “It has been reported widely that the text of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement has been agreed between British government and European Union negotiators.

“Sinn Féin has consistently called for an agreement that protects Irish interests, our economy, the Good Friday Agreement and the rights of our citizens.

“Last December, a joint report by UK and EU negotiators was agreed, in which it was stated there would be no hard border in Ireland. The Taoiseach assured us that this was a ‘cast iron’ guarantee.

“The withdrawal agreement must give legal effect to that ‘cast iron’ guarantee.

“While we await the publication of this document, it is a matter of concern that some are presenting the backstop agreement as temporary.

“Brexit is for the long term and what is required is a durable, permanent and legally robust agreement that safeguards Irish interests and ensures there is no hard border on the island of Ireland.”

Arlene Foster last night tweeted a statement from herself, which stated: “We want a sensible deal which works for Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom and our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland. But our desire for a deal will not be superseded by a willingness to accept any deal.

“An agreement which places new trade barriers between NI and GB will fundamentally undermine the constitutional and economic integrity of the UK. This is not acceptable. Over time such a deal will weaken the Union.”