Mon, 15 April 2024

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By Baroness Hoey
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Rishi Sunak Confirms A Northern Ireland Protocol Deal Is Done With The EU

Rishi Sunak and Ursula von der Leyen met in Windsor to finalise the deal (Alamy)

5 min read

Rishi Sunak has signed a Northern Ireland Protocol deal alongside European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, ending months of deadlock on the contentious trade arrangement.

At a press conference in Windsor on Monday, Sunak hailed a "decisive breakthrough" on the deal, and announced the 'New Windsor framework' that includes "smooth-flowing trade" within the whole of the UK. 

Sunak confirmed details in the deal, including the role of the European Court of Justice in settling trade disputes, introducing "red" and "green" lanes for trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in order to reduce checks on goods entering Northern Ireland, as well as altering tax arrangements that require businesses in Northern Ireland to follow EU rules on VAT and state aid.

 "Today's agreement safeguard sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland," Sunak said. 

"The only EU law that applies in Northern Ireland under the framework is the minimum necessary to avoid a hard border with Ireland and allow Northern Irish businesses to continue accessing the EU market.

"I believe the Windsor framework marks a turning point for the people of Northern Ireland. It fixes the practical problems they face. It preserves the balance of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement."

Sunak said he recognised that parties "will want to consider the agreement in detail a process that will need time and care".

The Prime Minister confirmed that the legal text of the protocol has been amended to ensure VAT and excise changes apply to the whole of the UK.

"The same quintessentially British products like trees, plants and seed potatoes will again be available in Northern Ireland's garden centers," he said.

The EU's Ursula von der Leyen said the negotiations had required the UK and EU to "listen to each other's concerns very carefully".

"We can take pride in the fact that we have delivered on that commitment because today, we have agreed we have reached an agreement in principle on the Windsor framework," she said.

"This new framework will allow us to begin a new chapter. It provides for long lasting solutions that both of us are confident will work for all people and businesses in Northern Ireland.

"Most importantly, it protects the very hard earned peace gains of the Belfast Good Friday agreement for the people of Northern Ireland and across the island of Ireland. Violence has no place in our society."

The EU chief and Sunak both condemned the shooting of a police officer in Omagh, Northern Ireland, last Thursday.

The dissident republican group the New IRA claimed it carried out the attack. 

Von der Leyen will also meet with King Charles in Windsor, although reportedly not to discuss the Northern Ireland Protocol.

A palace spokesperson said: "The King is pleased to meet any world leader if they are visiting Britain and it is the government's advice that he should do so."

The success of the deal still hinges on whether it is accepted by Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), who have refused to reinstate the power-sharing government in Stormont in protest over Brexit trade arrangements. They have set “seven tests” for the Protocol deal, including avoiding any diversion of trade and having “no checks on goods” between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. 

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson rejected a claim by the Irish News that his party are going to accept the finalised deal. “We’ll take our time to consider the detail and measure a deal against our seven tests,” he said. The party is not expected to either outright reject or accept today's detail without close scrutiny, which could take several days. 

The Republic of Ireland has welcomed the deal as a "genuine response" to the "genuine concerns" of unionists, but Irish foreign minister Micheál Martin urged political leaders in Northern Ireland to "act quickly" when considering the detail and deciding on their next steps. 

“I appreciate that some time may be needed to consider the detail of the deal, but I would urge political leaders in Northern Ireland to act quickly, to put in place institutions that can respond directly to the needs of the people of Northern Ireland,” he said in a statement.

Sunak originally hoped to get the deal over the line last week, but has struggled with selling the deal to both the DUP and Brexiteer MPs in his own party.

Moderates in the Conservative Party have warned its hardline Eurosceptic wing that if they refuse to support the deal, it would undermine the national interest.

However, a senior member of the ERG, former Tory party leader Iain Duncan Smith, warned No 10 against trying to "bounce" Conservative MPs into backing the deal

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