Brexit Northern Ireland deal: Rishi Sunak scraps Boris Johnson's Northern Ireland protocol to secure new agreement with EU

Rishi Sunak has scrapped Boris Johnson’s Northern Ireland Protocol to secure a “decisive breakthrough” deal with the European Union.

After months of intensive talks, the Prime Minister unveiled the controversially named “Windsor Framework”, promising the agreement would deliver smooth flowing trade and “safeguards sovereignty”.

Mr Sunak finalised the long-awaited deal on Monday with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to improve the agreement signed by Mr Johnson more than three years ago, after a meeting in Windsor lasting under two hours.

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The agreement was welcomed by both the DUP and some hardline Brexiteers, including Steve Baker, raising hopes it will pass through a coming Commons vote. Mr Sunak said Parliament would “have a vote at the appropriate time”, and “that vote will be respected” after coming under pressure to give MPs a say on the deal.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak greets EU President, Usula Von Der Leyen, at the Fairmont Windsor Park hotel in Englefield Green, Windsor, Berkshire, ahead of a meeting to discuss the Northern Ireland Protocol.Prime Minister Rishi Sunak greets EU President, Usula Von Der Leyen, at the Fairmont Windsor Park hotel in Englefield Green, Windsor, Berkshire, ahead of a meeting to discuss the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak greets EU President, Usula Von Der Leyen, at the Fairmont Windsor Park hotel in Englefield Green, Windsor, Berkshire, ahead of a meeting to discuss the Northern Ireland Protocol.

A key part is an “emergency brake” on changes to EU goods rules that can be pulled by the Northern Ireland Assembly that Mr Sunak said would give the Westminster Government a “veto”.

The Prime Minister said it was a “very powerful mechanism” for Stormont to use when it has concerns over EU law.

At a press conference in Windsor Guildhall, the Prime Minister said: “I’m pleased to report that we have now made a decisive breakthrough. Together we have changed the original Protocol and are today announcing the new Windsor Framework.

“Today’s agreement delivers smooth-flowing trade within the whole United Kingdom, protects Northern Ireland’s place in our union and safeguards sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland.”

Mr Sunak said he believed the deal was a “turning point for Northern Ireland” that addressed the concerns of the DUP, and stressed he was now hoping they would back it and restore powersharing in Stormont.

Referencing changes to customs and VAT rules, Mr Sunak added: “This means we have removed any sense of a border in the Irish Sea.”

Goods will now travel to Northern Ireland as normal through a new green lane without red tape or unnecessary checks. The only checks remaining are designed to prevent smuggling or crime.

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The deal also rewrites the Treaty text, with a new Stormont Brake that means the UK can veto new EU goods laws if they are not supported by both communities in Northern Ireland, which goes far beyond previous agreements or discussions on the old Protocol.

The process would be triggered if 30 MLAs – representatives in the Stormont Assembly – from two or more parties sign a petition, after which there is a 14 day consultation period. If after that period 30 MLAs still support the petition, there would be a vote in the assembly.

Mr Sunak said the deal meant food available on the supermarket shelves in Great Britain would be available on supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland.

Standing beside the Prime Minister she warmly referred to as “dear Rishi”, Ms von der Leyen hailed a “new chapter in our partnership” that would foster a “stronger EU-UK relationship”. 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. Solutions that respond directly to the concerns they have raised.

“Prime Minister, we worked hard across a wide range of areas. The new arrangements are delivering a comprehensive package, so that we can address in a definitive way the issues faced in everyday lives.”

She said Brussels would immediately start the ball rolling on the UK joining the EU’s Horizon scientific research programme, marking a clear thawing of the tensions most visible under Mr Johnson. However, issues with the European Research Group could still arise over the role of European Court of Justice, which will still play a part in some disputes.

The deal resets relations between the UK Government and Brussels, with Mr Sunak seeing a better working relationship than his predecessors.

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Ms Von Der Leyen later had tea with King Charles III at Windsor Castle despite criticisms the meeting would drag the monarch into the politically contentious deal.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson thanked the Prime Minister for his work on the new arrangement, but declined to say if his party would support it. Sir Jeffrey claimed the DUP would now asses it against their seven tests, but in a sign of acceptance, promised to engage with the Government to seek “further clarification, re-working or change as required”.

Full support from the DUP is crucial, so powersharing can be restored in Northern Ireland to get Stormont back up and running. There was also praise from the arch-Brexiteer Mr Baker, now a Northern Ireland Office minister, who had been on resignation watch.

He said: “I’m really delighted. I’m actually hand-on-heart glad to accept the whole thing. Where there’s a compromise it’s because we need to keep that north-south border free of infrastructure. And so insofar as there’s compromise, it’s for that reason.

“So I’m incredibly proud of this achievement, I think the Prime Minister’s really pulled a blinder.

“I think it’s a fantastic achievement for all parties to this deal – for Ireland, for the EU, for the unionists and for Eurosceptics. So I’m delighted that we can move on to a new chapter.”

Mr Sunak will now hope to win further support of unionists and Tory Eurosceptics, with the latter going public repeatedly in the past month with threats to block any deal they didn’t deem suitable.

Tory Brexiteers in the European Research Group (ERG) are to meet on Tuesday and will convene MP Sir Bill Cash’s so-called “star chamber” of lawyers to scrutinise the deal before deciding whether to back it. Ireland’s deputy leader and foreign affairs minister Micheal Martin welcomed the deal struck on the Protocol, and said it was a “genuine response” to unionist concerns.

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He said: “Today’s announcement by European Commission president von der Leyen and UK Prime Minister Sunak that the EU and UK have agreed a new way forward on the Protocol is very welcome.

“This new agreement, the Windsor Framework, is the result of genuine engagement, and of the EU and UK working together and listening to the concerns raised by elected representatives, citizens and business in Northern Ireland.

“This new framework will, for example, ensure that the same food will be available on supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland as in the rest of the UK. Medicines will also be available to people in Northern Ireland at the same time and under the same conditions as the rest of the UK.”

Earlier in the day, Conservative Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg warned Mr Sunak of a possible Tory revolt if the DUP did 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.”

Charles’s meeting with Ms von der Leyen was also criticised as “constitutionally unwise” by Mr Rees-Mogg because it involved 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.

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



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