Rishi Sunak Visits Northern Ireland As Protocol Deal Gets Closer
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (Alamy)
Rishi Sunak is heading to Belfast tonight as an agreement on the Northern Ireland Protocol draws closer.
The Prime Minister is on his way to Northern Ireland where he will meet with political parties to discuss the negotiations with the European Union, no10 confirmed on Thursday evening.
“Whilst talks with the EU are ongoing, ministers continue to engage with relevant stakeholders to ensure any solution fixes the practical problems on the ground, meets our overarching objectives, and safeguards Northern Ireland’s place in the UK’s internal market.
“The Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland are travelling to Northern Ireland this evening to speak to political parties as part of this engagement process," a spokesperson said.
Sunak will be joined in Belfast by Chris Heaton Harris, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
The visit is the latest sign that the UK government and EU are close to announcing a deal on the post-Brexit treaty for the region.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly is expected in Brussels tomorrow where he is set to meet European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic.
An announcement that a deal has been reached could come as soon as next week, PoliticsHome understands, though Downing Street publicly insists that talks are still ongoing.
PoliticsHome reported on Wednesday that officials were close to completing briefings on the substance of the deal, including an explanation of why the government believes it satisfies the seven tests of the Democratic Unionist Party.
The next hurdle facing Sunak is persuading the DUP to support a deal with the EU.
The party led by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson collapsed the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland early last year over its opposition to the post-Brexit arrangements and is refusing to re-enter the institutions in Stormont until their concerns are addressed.
Sammy Wilson, DUP MP for East Antrim, warned yesterday that his party would be the "final arbiters" as to whether the tests have been met.
The Northern Ireland Protocol was agreed as part of Brexit negotiations as a way of avoiding a contentious hard border on the island of Ireland. It did so by creating new barriers to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the Irish Sea, which both sides are committed to reducing.
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