Before discussing trade, European negotiators insisted on making “sufficient progress” on three “divorce” issues arising from Brexit: Britain’s outstanding financial commitments to the bloc, the rights of European citizens living in Britain, and the future of the border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and Ireland, which will stay a member of the European Union.
That point seemed to have been reached early Friday morning, after Mrs. May traveled to Brussels to sign off on an agreement that was announced by Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission. Mrs. May had already roughly doubled her original financial offer to the bloc, to pay for commitments made while Britain was a member.
And after days of confusion, she has now offered enough assurances over the future of the Irish border to satisfy European negotiators, and the Irish government.
The government in Dublin had demanded pledges that there would be no re-imposition of controls on the Irish frontier after Britain leaves the European Union. Those controls were dismantled as part of a peace process that ended decades of sectarian conflict, known as the Troubles.
Although no one wants to see their return, avoiding customs checks would be a complicated task if the United Kingdom moves away from the European Union’s rules once it quits the bloc. Britain’s departure would likely mean that it would leave Europe’s customs union, which guarantees tariff-free commerce, and its single market, which lays down rules and standards for trade in goods and many services.
On Monday, Mrs. May’s earlier proposal to square the circle seemed to fall apart when it was opposed by Arlene Foster, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, a small Northern Irish grouping upon whose 10 votes Mrs. May relies on in Parliament.