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Brexit on, but Northern Ireland party set to oppose deal

But opposition Labour Party and Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party could scupper Johnson's hopes of approval in Parliament

BRUSSELS Britain clinched an eleventh-hour Brexit deal with the European Union yesterday, more than three years after Britons voted in a referendum to leave the bloc.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson still faces a knife-edge vote in parliament to get it approved.

"Where there is a will there is a deal - we have one! It's a fair and balanced agreement for the EU and the UK and it is a testament to our commitment to find solutions," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in a tweet a few hours before the start of an EU summit in Brussels.

He said he would recommend that leaders of the other 27 member states approve the deal.

"I believe it is high time to complete the divorce process and move on, as swiftly as possible, to the negotiation on the European Union's future partnership with the United Kingdom," Mr Juncker said in a letter.

Mr Johnson, who was due to meet the 27 at the summit, declared: "we have a great new Brexit deal".

He is hoping to get approval for the agreement in a vote at an extraordinary session of the British parliament tomorrow, to pave the way for an orderly departure on Oct 31.

But the Northern Irish party that Mr Johnson needs to help ratify any agreement has refused to support the deal that was hammered out over weeks of negotiations.

The head of the main opposition Labour Party, Mr Jeremy Corbyn, said in Brussels he was "unhappy" with the deal and would vote against it. Lawmakers in his party said they had been told to vote for another referendum tomorrow.

Negotiators worked frantically this week to agree a draft compromise on the question of the Irish border, the most difficult part of Brexit, haggling over everything from customs checks to the thorny issue of consent from the Northern Irish administration.

CONUNDRUM

The conundrum was how to prevent the frontier becoming a backdoor into the EU's single market without erecting checkpoints that could undermine the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of conflict in the province.

The agreement reached will keep Northern Ireland in the UK customs area but tariffs will apply on goods crossing from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland if they are deemed to be headed further, to Ireland and the bloc's single market.

The agreement scraps the "backstop", a mechanism envisaged earlier to prevent a hard border being introduced on the island of Ireland, and would have bound Britain to some EU rules. The EU had long insisted that the backstop could not be removed.

But the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which supports Mr Johnson's government, said the new text was not acceptable - a step that could spur hardline Brexiteers in his Conservative party also to oppose ratification absent additional changes.

"These proposals are not, in our view, beneficial to the economic well-being of Northern Ireland and they undermine the integrity of the union," the party said, warning that a parliamentary vote tomorrow was just the first stage in approving the deal. - REUTERS

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