The UK and the EU reached a deal Monday to resolve their dispute over Northern Ireland’s trading rules. This was a major turning point in years of tensions after Brexit.
Rishi Sunak (UK prime minister) and Ursula von der Leyen (presidence of the European Commission), signed the agreement under the watchful eye of Windsor Castle. Both men spoke of a “new chapter in their relations.”
Sunak and von der Leyen believe that the agreement to facilitate trade between Northern Ireland, the UK and other countries will end years-long post-Brexit tensions between London and Brussels.
Sunak stated that “we have made a decisive step forward” during a press conference held with von der Leyen. The two men hailed an agreement to overhaul the so-called Northern Ireland protocol.
This protocol was created to avoid a hard border between the island and Ireland. It is hated by the Democratic Unionist party in Northern Ireland because it created a trade blockade for goods traveling from Great Britain to the region. The EU’s single market for goods remains intact.
Sunak began selling the new deal to Northern Ireland’s DUP MPs and Eurosceptic Tory MPs Monday. His high-stakes wager is showing early signs it could limit the size a rebellion.
Steve Baker, Northern Ireland minister, self-described “hardman of Brexit”, dismissed rumors that he might quit and called the agreement “a really great deal”. David Davis, a former Brexit secretary, also supported the agreement.
Boris Johnson, who was the former prime minister and signed the protocol with Brussels, wasn’t in the House of Commons for Sunak to be heard. According to his allies, he was still pondering how to respond.
Sunak stated that MPs would have a vote “at the appropriate time”.
Many Eurosceptic Tories could follow the lead of the DUP, who is currently considering whether to accept and end its boycott at Stormont. In protest at the operation of protocol, the party refused to attend.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, DUP leader, stated to a packed House of Commons, “significant progress” has been made in a variety of areas, but that there were still “key issues of concern”.
Another DUP MP Ian Paisley told BBC that the reforms didn’t “cut the mustard”. However, Sunak stated that unionists need “time and space” in order to decide whether they want to return to power-sharing executive.
British Prime Minister claimed that he had achieved fundamental reforms to protocol, which was part of Johnson’s 2019 Brexit agreement and a central point of tensions. Many Tory MPs were surprised by the extent of the reforms.
Von der Leyen spoke highly of the “very constructive attitude from the beginning” in talks with the UK and said that they were “close partners, shoulder-to-shoulder, now, and in the future”.
Sunak claims that the agreement will reduce trade bureaucracy, decrease the role of EU law in Northern Ireland and the European Court of Justice in Northern Ireland. It also gives Stormont’s assembly a voice over any new EU rules.
The Brexit treaty will now be recast to include an “emergency brake”, which allows the UK to, upon request by 30 members of the Northern Ireland legislative assembly to oppose any updates to the EU goods law in extraordinary circumstances.
The UK will abandon Johnson’s legislation to unilaterally revise the protocol.
The EU will, in turn restart cooperation with Britain under the EU95bn Horizon science program. Von der Leyen hails “good news” for scientists and researchers in the EU and UK.
Britain and France are expected to intensify their efforts to stop small boat migration across the Channel.
There was controversy surrounding the signing of the agreement. Von der Leyen had included a visit with King Charles in her itinerary. This led to accusations that Sunak allowed the monarch to be brought into the political arena.
While Brussels claimed the meeting was not connected to the protocol, Baroness Arlene foster, former leader of DUP, stated that the move was “crass”, and would “go down very poorly” in Northern Ireland.
Sunak stated Monday that the agreement would make it easier for items such as pets, medicines, and plants to be shipped between Great Britain, Northern Ireland, and eliminate any sense of an Irish Sea border.
For goods going into Ireland or the single market, a “green lane” would create at Irish Sea ports with substantially reduced inspections.
Downing Street stated that the agreement would guarantee Northern Ireland the same food, drink, and medicines as the rest.
Officials from the UK acknowledged Monday’s agreement would not eliminate EU law and European Court of Justice jurisdiction in Northern Ireland, as some Brexit-hardliners demanded.
Both sides claimed that Brussels has not made any significant progress on the ECJ’s role in enforcing protocol. However, the UK is likely to claim that the EU law being enforced will have been reduced.
Joe Biden, the US president, commented on Monday about the deal. He stated that he was confident that Northern Ireland’s businesses and citizens will be able take full advantage of the stability and certainty.
“Northern Ireland’s leaders can achieve the extraordinary when they work together in common cause. As we all hope, I also hope that Northern Ireland’s political institutions will soon be back in operation. These institutions are based on the Good Friday Agreement’s principle of representative, devolved, and power-sharing government.