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Brexit latest: Sunak says deal means UK has ‘taken back control’

Rishi Sunak and Ursula von der Leyen in Windsor on 27 February 2023. (Photo: Dan Kitwood / Getty Images)

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak struck a deal with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on new trading arrangements for Northern Ireland, potentially ending a stand-off that’s poisoned relations with the European Union since Brexit.

In a press conference, Sunak said the UK and EU were at “the beginning of a new chapter in our relationship.” Von der Leyen said the “extraordinary” agreement — known as the “Windsor Framework” — provides for “long-lasting solutions.”

Sunak later made a statement to Parliament, where he needs to win the support of pro-Brexit Conservative MPs and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party. He said there will need to be some role for EU law in the region, but stressed that a new mechanism called the “Stormont Brake” would provide safeguards to businesses operating in Northern Ireland.

Key Developments:

  • UK and EU Seal ‘Decisive Breakthrough’ on Northern Ireland
  • Pound Rises to Session High of $1.2030 After UK, EU Reach Deal
  • UK document here. European Commission document here.

(All times UK)

Key Points: Fewer Trade Barriers, Brake on EU Laws

Here are some key aspects of the “Windsor Framework”:

  • A “green-” and “red-lane” system, with goods traveling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland requiring less onerous checks and paperwork
  • A mechanism for Northern Ireland to limit the impact of amended or revised EU goods laws, under a so-called “Stormont Brake”
  • The European Court of Justice continues to be the final arbiter on matters of EU law affecting Northern Ireland
  • Removal of existing requirements on trade from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, as well as on pets and parcels traveling between the two regions
  • The ability of the UK government to make decisions on value added tax and excise changes that could apply in Northern Ireland as well as Great Britain
  • Medicines approved by the UK regulator will automatically become available in Northern Ireland

Irish PM Varadkar Keen on Improved Ties (7:30 p.m.)

Today’s agreement “workable and durable” solutions for businesses and citizens in Northern Ireland, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said in a briefing late Monday. “If implemented, it will bring stability and certainty to a situation that has been in flux since the decision of the Brexit referendum, almost seven years ago.”

He also looked forward to the prospect of improved ties with the UK. “I look forward to discussing with Prime Minister Sunak how we can take relations between us post-Brexit to a new and more positive level.”

Varadkar said it was important to give unionists in Northern Ireland time to “sit down and examine the detail” of the agreement.

Key Unionist Leader Says Concerns Remain (7:20 p.m.)

Jeffrey Donaldson, leader of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, said he welcomed Sunak’s progress but wasn’t yet prepared to endorse the deal.

“There remain key issues of concern,” Donaldson said in the House of Commons. He said his party would study the deal closely before passing judgement. He sought an assurance from Sunak that Northern Ireland’s place within the UK’s internal market would be protected.

Sunak said he respected the DUP’s need to examine the deal.

Scottish National Party ‘Fairly Supportive’ (7:10 p.m.)

Stephen Flynn, who leads the Scottish National Party in Westminster and its 45 MPs, said he is “fairly supportive” of Sunak’s new deal with the EU. He said it will help protect the Good Friday Agreement — though he complained that Northern Ireland has privileged access to the EU’s single market, while Scotland does not.

May Urges Backing for New Deal (7:05 pm)

Theresa May, who tried and failed to get her own Brexit deal past Parliament when she was prime minister, congratulated the government on securing a new agreement, and urged MPs to back it.

“The best move now is for everybody across this house to support this settlement,” May told the chamber. “That is what is in the best interests of all the people of Northern Ireland.”

Labour Will Vote for Sunak’s Brexit Deal (7:02 p.m.)

Labour leader Keir Starmer said his party will support Sunak’s new Brexit deal over Northern Ireland.

“We will not snipe, we will not seek to play political games,” Starmer said in the House of Commons. “When the prime minister puts this deal forward for a vote, Labour will support it and vote for it.”

Starmer urged other opposition parties to back the deal and “put country before party.”

Sunak: Deal Ends ‘Automatic Ratchet’ of EU Law (7:00 p.m.)

Commending the new agreement to the House of Commons, Sunak conceded that for as long as businesses of Northern Ireland continue to have access to the EU single market, “there will be some role for EU law.”

The mission for negotiators, he said, was to establish “what is the absolute minimum necessary to avoid a hard border.” The so-called Stormont Brake introduced in the new deal allows Northern Ireland’s assembly to use a cross-community vote to reject EU regulations.

Sunak insisted that Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom’s internal market was secure, and that the brake was introduced by rewriting the original treaty. “It puts beyond all doubt that we have now taken back control,” he added.

Sunak Thanks Prominent Brexit-Backer (6:55 p.m.)

Sunak thanked Bill Cash, a prominent Brexiteer, for his help in devising the Stormont Brake, the mechanism by which Northern Ireland’s lawmakers can veto alterations to EU law as applied in the region.

Cash sits on the so-called Star Chamber of legal advisers that backbench Conservative Brexiteers in the European Research Group are preparing to use to help judge whether the new deal is acceptable to them.

Businesses Keen on Stability in N. Ireland (6:29 p.m.)

Northern Irish business groups welcomed the apparent stability the deal offers, but stressed there may be future issues to work through.

“Reaching an agreement is an important step in securing the stability and certainty businesses have been seeking,” the Northern Ireland Business Working group, which represents 14 industry bodies, said in a statement. “We would encourage the UK and EU to continue with a constructive, solutions-focused approach as businesses adjust to the new arrangements.”

Stormont Veto or Stormont Brake? (5:36 p.m.)

Sunak described a key element of the deal as a “veto” over whether amended EU laws would apply to Northern Ireland. EU officials described a more subtle mechanism — a measure of last resort that would only apply when the bloc amends or replaces existing laws that would have a significant and persistent impact on everyday lives of people in Northern Ireland.

The so-called “Stormont Brake” would require 30 Northern Ireland lawmakers from at least two parties to ask to trigger it. The UK government would then have to decide to use the mechanism, prompting efforts by London and Brussels to resolve the dispute. If London triggers the brake, the EU would be empowered to take unspecified measures to protect its internal market, officials said.

Finally, if the EU disagreed with the UK on whether the conditions were met to trigger the mechanism, a dispute resolution is available. EU officials said the the European Court of Justice wouldn’t be involved in this process but would continue to be the sole arbiter of EU law.

Sinn Fein Urges DUP to Back Accord (5:08 p.m.)

Leaders of Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein gave the deal their support, saying it now puts the onus the DUP to work with other Northern Ireland parties to get power-sharing up and running again.

“We now have a solution on the table and I encourage the DUP to join with the rest of the parties and actually make politics work here,” Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Fein’s vice president, said to reporters in Belfast. The party’s president Mary Lou McDonald also endorsed the agreement.

The all-island party will meet this evening to “carefully assess” the details of the deal, according to McDonald’s statement.

Key N. Ireland Party Plans to Study Deal (4:59 p.m.)

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson issued a statement welcoming the deal and thanking Sunak for his engagement and efforts in negotiating a deal with the EU.

“In broad terms it is clear that significant progress has been secured across a number of areas whilst also recognizing there remain key issues of concern,” Donaldson said.

“Ultimately the party will now assess all these proposed outcomes and arrangements against our seven tests, outlined in our 2022 Assembly Election Manifesto, to determine whether what has been published meet our tests and whether it respects and restores Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom.”

Irish PM Welcomes UK-EU Agreement (4:28 p.m.)

Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s prime minister, endorsed the agreement reached by British and EU negotiators.

“Today’s announcement of the positive outcome in negotiations on the Protocol between the EU and the UK is most welcome. It is the result of a long and difficult process to find joint solutions.”

Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said he believed unionists in Northern Ireland “will see in this a genuine response to their genuine concerns” and urged political leaders in Northern Ireland to “act quickly” to restore the devolved government at Stormont.

Deal ‘Protects’ N. Ireland, Von Der Leyen Says: (3:45 p.m.)

Von Der Leyen spoke after Sunak, saying that the new agreement provides for “long-lasting solutions” for Northern Ireland. The deal puts in place strong safeguards that will allow goods to move more freely across the Irish Sea.

The establishment of red and green lanes for goods, as well as real-time data-sharing, which will enable Northern Ireland supermarkets to stock the same food as in Great Britain.

She hailed the negotiating teams and said: “The result is extraordinary.”

Sunak Announces ‘Windsor Framework’ (3:33 p.m)

The British prime minister gave the first details of the new Brexit trade agreement in remarks to open a join press conference with Von Der Leyen. He said the negotiations had led to amendments to the legal text of the Northern Ireland Protocol, a move that would “safeguard Northern Ireland’s place in the union.”

“Burdensome bureaucracy will be scrapped,” Sunak said, announcing what he called the “Windsor Framework,” an agreement he said would remove “any sense of a border in the Irish Sea.”

Pound Rises 0.7% to Session-High (2:45 p.m.)

Sterling rose to a session-high after news of the announcement. The pound increased by as much as 0.7% to $1.2030, making it the second-best performing major currency Monday.

EU and UK Agree Deal Over N. Ireland Trade (2:29 p.m.)

The UK prime minister and the leader of the European Commission quickly wrapped up a deal after beginning talks close to Windsor Castle, where Von Der Leyen will meet Charles III later on Monday.

Broadcasters aired pictures of them shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries before talks began. The two will hold a press conference at 3:30 p.m. UK time.

Unionists ‘Need to Take Time’: (1:55 p.m.)

Donaldson, leader of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, said he hasn’t seen the text of any deal. Speaking to the BBC before flying to London, he said he hadn’t seen the text of an agreement yet.

“Once we’ve seen the legal text we’ll come to a view on that,” Donaldson said. “I’m neither positive nor negative. I think that we need to take time to look at the deal, what’s available, and how does that match our seven tests,” he added.

Sunak Wins Key Backing of Pro-Brexit MP (1 p.m.)

Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker, a former chair of the European Research Group of Brexiteer Tory MPs, appears to have given his backing to the imminent deal.

Speaking to reporters at Downing Street, Baker told Sky News that “the PM is on the cusp of securing a really fantastic result for everyone involved.”

While a minister would typically be expected to support government policy, Baker has been one of the most hardline Brexiteers in parliament in recent years. Bloomberg previously reported he was considering resignation, unhappy at being kept out of the loop on negotiations.

Gibraltar Dispute Continues (12:54 p.m)

Any deal on the Northern Ireland protocol won’t solve all border frictions between the EU and the UK — they continue to disagree over the post-Brexit relationship with Gibraltar, which is a very different situation, a senior EU diplomat said.

Talks are ongoing to keep Gibraltar — a UK territory on the southern tip of Spain — in the EU’s Schengen area to avoid a hard border. But Madrid wants Spanish agents to control the entry to the European border-free area at Gibraltar’s port and airport. Last November, Spain made a global proposal to the UK covering the transit of people and goods, workers’ rights and the fight against money laundering.

Von Der Leyen to Meet King (11:55 a.m.)

Von der Leyen will meet with Charles III later this afternoon, Sunak’s spokesman, Max Blain, told reporters.

Speaking after some Conservatives, including former cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg criticized the idea of the European Commission president meeting the monarch, Blain said it’s up to the King to decide who he meets. He declined to comment on why the monarch had been given the advice that a meeting should go ahead.

The disclosure comes after people familiar said last week a meeting between von der Leyen and the King had been planned for the weekend before being canceled. That had sparked controversy, with Rees-Mogg telling GB News on Monday such a meeting would be a “mistake” because the sovereign shouldn’t be involved until there is “full support” for any deal.

Buckingham Palace said in a statement that 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.”

Sunak Seeking to Settle Trickiest Brexit Overhang (10:55 a.m.)

The deal signed by then Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2019 caused various problems for Northern Ireland and it’s been a simmering source of tension since.

The agreement created an effective trade border within the United Kingdom, requiring goods traveling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland to face various customs checks as if they were heading for the EU. It also kept Northern Ireland following some EU laws.

That riled unionists, who have stymied the formation of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government for more than a year in protest against the arrangements.  The UK-EU discussions have sought to fix those frictions, while continuing to protect the bloc’s single market.

Starmer Says Deal Likely to Be an Improvement (10:30 a.m.)

Asked why he’s backing a deal he hasn’t yet read, Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer said he’s “completely across the issues” and their potential solutions.

“Frankly any steps in this direction are going to be an improvement on what we have got,” Starmer told reporters after delivering a speech on Monday. “I can say with confidence we back the deal. It’s not going to be a surprise, it’s not going to be out of the blue.”

N. Ireland Deal Will Spur Growth, Labour’s Reeves Says (07:32 a.m.)

The opposition Labour Party said a new post-Brexit agreement for Northern Ireland will boost the UK economy and pledged to back the expected deal negotiated by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

“This will be beneficial to the economy of the United Kingdom,” Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said on Bloomberg TV on Monday. “We’re not going to play party politics with this. We will support the government if and when they bring back a deal.”

Tory Backbencher Says N. Ireland Needs Say on Laws (7:10 a.m.)

Theresa Villiers, a Brexiteer Conservative backbencher, said Sunak’s deal needs to end frictions and paperwork for goods crossing the Irish Sea and also end the situation where “people in Northern Ireland are subject to thousands of single market laws over which they have no say and no vote.”

“We can’t tolerate a continuation of Northern Ireland being subject to the full panoply of single market rules,” Villiers — a former Northern Ireland secretary — told BBC radio on Monday. “There’s going to be significant divergence in the future and that makes it even more important for us to address this problem that we must enable people in Northern Ireland to have a say over the laws that govern them.”

Villiers also said it’s “crucial” that Sunak gives Parliament a vote over any new deal, adding: “I can’t conceive of circumstances where something as significant as this can be finally agreed and implemented without MPs voting.”

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Sunak is turning out to be a winning PM – if only we could offer him the leadership job here!
    This Irish EU trade agreement seems so complicated – I have yet to read, hear or understand in simple terms what it actually is! Help anyone?

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