Rishi Sunak hails new NI Brexit deal but DUP concerns remainon February 27, 2023 at 10:37 pm

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The PM says the agreement for Northern Ireland is a breakthrough, as many Tory MPs express support.

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The DUP has welcomed “significant progress” after the UK and EU agreed a deal on post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland, but says “key issues of concern” remain.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said his party would now study the legal text, before reaching a decision.

PM Rishi Sunak said the deal was a “decisive breakthrough”.

And there was support for the deal from many Conservative MPs, including those who supported Brexit.

But some Tories MPs have also said they will only support an agreement if it has the backing of the DUP.

The party, whose support is crucial to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland, has been boycotting the devolved government until its concerns over the Northern Ireland Protocol are resolved.

Sinn Féin, which is the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly, welcomed the deal, although it said it still needed to examine the details.

The party’s vice president, Michelle O’Neill, repeated her call for the DUP to return to devolved government, adding: “We always said that with pragmatism, solutions could be found.”

Many Tory MPs welcomed the deal – among them, Northern Ireland Office Minister Steve Baker said Mr Sunak had “pulled a blinder”.

The arch-Brexiteer said he had been considering resigning “as late as yesterday” but the Stormont brake mechanism meant he now “wholeheartedly” backed the deal.

He added that the agreement “should be good enough for any reasonable unionists”.

The long-awaited agreement, named the Windsor Framework, changes the Northern Ireland Protocol, which was signed by Boris Johnson and came into force in 2021.

The protocol aimed to ensure free movement of goods across the Irish land border by conducting checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain instead.

But under the treaty, Northern Ireland had to keep following some EU rules.

Announcing the agreement at a press conference alongside European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Mr Sunak said it “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”.

Under the agreement:

  • Goods from Britain destined for Northern Ireland will travel through a new “green lane”, with a separate “red lane” for goods at risk of moving on to the EU
  • Products coming into Northern Ireland through the green lane will see most checks and paperwork scrapped, while red lane goods will still be subject to normal checks
  • A “Stormont brake” allows the Northern Ireland Assembly to raise an objection to “significantly different” EU rules which would apply in Northern Ireland
  • “Critical” VAT changes will apply to the whole of the UK, whereas under previous rules they did not automatically apply

Image source, .

In a statement, the DUP said “significant progress has been secured across a number of areas” but “key issues of concern” remained.

“There can be no disguising the fact that in some sectors of our economy EU law remains applicable in Northern Ireland,” it said.

The party said it would now want to study the detail of the deal and underpinning legal texts.

It added: “Where necessary we stand ready to engage with the government in order to seek further clarification, reworking or change as required.”

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Several Brexit-supporting MPs have responded positively to the agreement.

Former Brexit Secretary David Davis said the prime minister had “pulled off a formidable negotiating success” and “secured the best possible deal”.

Former Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom said there had been “huge progress”, adding: “It all now depends on whether the communities in NI feel it’s the right solution.”

Mr Sunak said Parliament would get a vote on the agreement at the “appropriate time” but added that MPs needed a chance to consider the detail.

Labour has said it will support a deal but the government will be reluctant to rely on opposition votes.

Leader Sir Keir Starmer said the deal was not “perfect” but “now that it has been agreed we all have an obligation to make it work”.

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