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Rishi Sunak strikes Northern Ireland Protocol deal with EU

27 Feb 2023 5 minute read
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak greets EU President, Usula Von Der Leyen. Photo Dan Kitwood PA Images

Rishi Sunak has signed a breakthrough deal with the European Union over post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland and will now seek to win the backing of unionists and Tory Eurosceptics.

The Prime Minister and EU chief Ursula von der Leyen finalised the long-awaited agreement to ease the trading issues created by the Northern Ireland Protocol during a summit at Windsor on Monday, sources from both sides told the PA news agency.

“An agreement has been reached. The deal is done,” a senior Downing Street source said.

The European Commission president will go on to have tea with the King at Windsor Castle despite criticisms that the meeting would drag Charles into the politically contentious deal.

Mr Sunak hopes the deal will win the approval of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) so powersharing can be restored in Northern Ireland to get Stormont back up and running.

DUP support would also be key in convincing Conservative Brexiteers to back the deal as pressure mounted on the Prime Minister to give MPs a Commons vote.

Party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: “We’ll take our time to consider the detail and measure a deal against our seven tests.”

The pound leaped higher against the US dollar and the euro after the deal was struck.

Tory revolt

Earlier in the day, Conservative Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg warned Mr Sunak of a possible Tory revolt if the DUP does not support the deal, despite major concessions expected from the EU.

The former cabinet minister told GB News: “It will all depend on the DUP. If the DUP are against it, I think there will be quite a significant number of Conservatives who are unhappy.”

He said that the position of Boris Johnson, who he described as the “biggest figure in UK politics”, will be “fundamental”.

But arch-Brexiteer Steve Baker, the Northern Ireland Office minister who had been on resignation watch, gave Mr Sunak his support.

Leaving No 10, he told broadcasters: “I can only say this: that the Prime Minister is on the cusp of securing a really fantastic result for everyone involved.”

Charles’s meeting with Ms von der Leyen was criticised as “constitutionally unwise” by Mr Rees-Mogg because it involves the King “in a matter of immediate political controversy”.

Baroness Arlene Foster, the former DUP leader and ex-first minister of Northern Ireland, said it was “crass and will go down very badly” with the unionists Mr Sunak is trying to win over.

Conservative Eurosceptic Theresa Villiers said it is “crucial” for Mr Sunak to give MPs a vote on the deal, as Downing Street declined to commit to one.

The former Northern Ireland secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I can’t conceive of circumstances where something as significant as this could be finally agreed and implemented without MPs voting on it in Parliament.”

Powersharing

She said she will consider the deal itself as well as talking to the DUP before deciding whether to support it, but stressed that restoring powersharing was “crucial”.

“It’s intolerable that we’ve got the protocol undermining political stability in Northern Ireland,” she said.

Sir Keir Starmer reiterated Labour’s support for any deal but said the real test will be whether Mr Sunak “has got the strength to sell it to his backbenchers or not”.

After a speech in the City of London, Sir Keir said it is “almost inevitable” that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) will “have to play some part” after the deal, a contentious point for the DUP.

But he said “we’ve got to make progress” on Northern Ireland before making “real changes” to the wider Brexit deal.

The Prime Minister will brief his senior ministers in a virtual meeting of the Cabinet.

He will then rejoin Ms von der Leyen to set out the deal to voters in a joint press conference before the Prime Minister makes a statement to MPs in the Commons.

Tory Brexiteers in the European Research Group (ERG) will convene MP Sir Bill Cash’s so-called “star chamber” of lawyers to scrutinise the deal before deciding whether to back it.

The protocol, signed by Mr Johnson as prime minister in 2020, was designed to prevent a hard border with Ireland after Brexit.

Northern Ireland has continued to follow EU rules on goods to prevent checks being needed when crossing into the Republic.

But the trade barriers created between Northern Ireland and Great Britain have angered unionists.

DUP

The DUP collapsed powersharing at Stormont last year in protest at the protocol’s impact, leaving Northern Ireland without an executive or an assembly.

Sir Jeffrey has issued seven tests that Mr Sunak’s new pact will have to meet to win DUP backing.

Chief among them is addressing what he calls the “democratic deficit” of Northern Ireland being subject to EU rules while not having a say on them.

The deal is expected to include check-free lanes for goods coming from Great Britain into Northern Ireland.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said the reduction in trade red tape would lead to a “substantial scaling back” of the role of the ECJ.

But he refused on Sunday to rule out the court having a say on future legal cases, which could prove to be a flashpoint for DUP resistance.

If Mr Sunak does allow a Commons vote, he is likely to win because Labour has agreed to support it, but he would want to succeed without relying on Opposition votes.


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Y Cymro
Y Cymro
6 months ago

Who can recall the extremist right-wing English redneck press who gleefully claimed Boris Johnson’s Northern Ireland Brexit deal was victory over that nasty EU, and how there would be no border in the Irish sea as part of his oven ready deal , only later to renege on the very deal agreed by the untrustworthy ERG/ Unionist cabal. And how many times can a deal he torn up and rewritten before the EU finally has enough of these Tory/Ulster Unionist big babies who threaten Tory tantrums. It seems they want all the benefits of the EU but none of the… Read more »

Ap Kenneth
6 months ago

The DUP gleefully galloped into this morass in London’s Parliament and have only themselves to blame, it could have been different and better for us all.

Llyn
Llyn
6 months ago

As an ERG aligned Brexiteer who idolises Boris Johnson and backed Liz Truss, Andrew RT Davies will not like this deal at all. He will think it’s a sell out, he doesn’t like Sunak and as a politician who’s go to political tactic is division and British nationalism he won’t like the new collaborative EU/UK tone that has appeared. However, he will wait and see the reaction before commenting and any criticism will be be in a subtle form for which his supporters will understand but it won’t be possible to quote him.

Rob
Rob
6 months ago

Quote from iNews: “The new deal includes a “Stormont brake” that will allow the Northern Ireland assembly to stop new EU single market rules applying. Once the break is pulled, the UK government can then apply a veto to the new laws.” This is the part that I find most interesting, and I wonder if this sets a precedent. If NI can retain access to the Single Market and Customs Union then why not Wales, Scotland or England? After all leaving the single market was not on the ballot paper when the referendum was held. Furthermore if the NI Assembly… Read more »

Last edited 6 months ago by Rob
Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
6 months ago

Everything rests on the DUP – who got less than a third of the votes at the last Stormont elections – and a group of ideologically warped Tory MPs – now completely out of touch with the majority of people in this country. Everytime some sort of breakthrough is announced the process and peace in Ireland is held to ransom by these people. I’m no fan of Brexit (bloody stupid idea) but if we are going to drop barriers with the EU, our biggest trading partner, the UK government – has to kick these idiots into touch.

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