| 20 March 2023, Monday |

Sunak in Belfast to sell new Brexit deal

Tuesday, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visited Northern Ireland to promote his new agreement with the European Union will facilitate trade after Brexit, a move he thinks would finally end the province’s political impasse.

In order to reestablish connections with the EU and the United States without upsetting MPs in his own party and in Belfast who are most committed to Brexit, Sunak is attempting to get the support of all parties in Northern Ireland.

His deal seeks to resolve the tensions caused by the Northern Ireland protocol, a complex agreement which set the trading rules for the British-governed region that London agreed before it left the EU in 2020, but now says are unworkable.

In order to keep open the politically sensitive border with EU-member Ireland, Northern Ireland remained in the EU single market for goods, raising the prospect it would slowly diverge from the rest of the United Kingdom, fueling fears in unionist communities.

Sunak said his agreement, the Windsor Framework, would strengthen the union, scrap rules that affected everything from the import of sausages to sandwiches, and give lawmakers on the ground a greater say over the rules and regulations they take from Brussels.

The success of the deal is likely to hinge on whether it convinces the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to end its boycott of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing arrangements. These were central to the 1998 peace deal which mostly ended three decades of sectarian and political violence in Northern Ireland.

Sunak said he wanted to explain the details to the different communities in Northern Ireland and accepts that will take time.

“I’m also very keen, we’ve not been shy about saying, that the people of Northern Ireland need and deserve their government,” he told reporters.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said his first reading of the deal suggested it would give the Stormont regional assembly the power to reject EU rules it did not want, providing some reassurance on their key concern of sovereignty.

The European Research Group, a group of pro-Brexit Conservative parliamentarians, would consult with attorneys to review the specifics before reaching a conclusion, so the party is likely to take some time before making a decision.

Sunak’s spokesman stated that the government had not established a timeline for a response, but she appreciated Donaldson’s recognition of the potential benefits of the Stormont Brake component of the agreement in addressing the province’s “democratic deficit.”

Sunak told the BBC that it was about the people of Northern Ireland and not “any one political party” when asked if he would apply the new regulations without the support of the DUP.

  • Reuters