Brexit and Ireland - what now?

The Irish border Image copyright PA
Image caption The Irish border has become a key issue in Brexit negotiations

While we wait for Theresa May's lunch with Jean-Claude Juncker I was writing a piece about the possible directions for Theresa May to unglue the sticking points in these talks.

I've just deleted it.

Because MEPs who have seen a draft of the agreement the leaders will discuss have just spilled the beans about the likely outcome. Philippe Lamberts, a Belgian Green MEP, has told us that the UK is poised to accept that there can't be "regulatory divergence" between the North and South of Ireland after we leave the EU.

In other words, the outlines of the deal that Theresa May is likely to accept today will say that Northern Ireland will continue with more or less the same rules and regulations as the South, implying that it could, in theory, have a special deal where it more or less stays in the EU customs union and the single market.

Lamberts told me it was a concession from the UK that we were going to have to make because of the contradiction of wanting to leave both institutions, but not build a border between North and South.

This might be the only way of getting the EU to move on to the next phase of the talks, which the UK urgently wants. But it would anger the DUP, whose support the PM needs at home, and create a precedent for Scotland and Wales, who both want the same.

And by conceding (again) like this, what precedent has Theresa May set? What happens in the next phase when Spain starts to rattle the cage in the same way over Gibraltar?

It may be that the political requirements of getting into the next phase were so important that storing up problems for the future like that is worth it.

But, hold your horses, the final text has not been agreed by the PM and Juncker.

And we haven't seen the full document yet ourselves. But it seems like the way the PM will guarantee progress is to compromise, significantly, again. Let's see.

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