The Joint Report of EU and UK negotiators, published in December, states that in the event that it is not possible to resolve the border issue through the wider future relationship agreement between the EU and the UK, which has always been the preference of the Irish Government as well as that of the UK, or through specific solutions, the UK has committed to maintaining full regulatory alignment with those rules of the Customs Union and Single Market which are required to support North South Cooperation, protect the all-island economy and avoid a hard border.
The guidelines agreed by the European Council in December called on negotiators to complete work on the withdrawal issues and to start drafting the relevant parts of the Withdrawal Agreement. This work has been ongoing since December. The Withdrawal Agreement, when finalised, will be legally binding and will reflect the principles and commitments agreed in phase one, including on the Irish specific issues.
It is expected that the first draft of the Withdrawal Agreement will be published by the Commission shortly and that this will give legal effect to the commitments made on the Irish specific issues in the Joint Progress Report. The draft will then be discussed internally by EU Member States in preparation for negotiations between the EU Task Force and the UK.
The Good Friday Agreement remains the indispensable framework for providing stable, inclusive, power-sharing government for all the people of Northern Ireland, and for sustaining the interlocking relationships on these islands - within Northern Ireland, on the island of Ireland and between the UK and Ireland.
The Government has consistently affirmed our unwavering commitment to the Good Friday Agreement, and our determination, as a co-guarantor of the Agreement, to secure the effective operation of all of its institutions.
As co-guarantor of the Agreement, the Government will continue to engage with the British Government and the political parties in Northern Ireland to support the urgent formation of a new Executive by the mandated political parties.