Rishi Sunak hails new NI Brexit deal, but DUP has concerns

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WATCH: Key moments from PM’s NI Brexit deal speech

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has hailed his deal on post-Brexit trade arrangements for Northern Ireland as “decisive progress”.

Many Conservative MPs, including those who supported Brexit, gave their support to the deal.

The DUP, which has been instrumental in restoring devolution in Northern Ireland, said it had made “significant progress”.

But the party warned that “key issues of concern” remained.

On Tuesday, Mr Sunak was in Belfast as part of his bid to sell his Brexit deal, detailing to businesses and politicians how he hoped it would ease the flow of trade between Britain, Northern Ireland and Ireland.

DUP leader Sir Geoffrey Donaldson said his party would now examine the legal text before deciding whether to back the deal.

The party has boycotted devolved government until its concerns over the Northern Ireland protocol are resolved and some Tory MPs have said they would only support the deal if it had the support of the DUP.

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

Michelle O’Neill, the party’s deputy leader, reiterated her call for the DUP to return to devolved government: “We’ve always said we can find solutions with pragmatism.”

After months of negotiations and speculation surrounding a potential deal, it was finally unveiled in a day of carefully choreographed events.

Around 14:00 GMT word began to emerge from inside the government that a deal had finally been struck on an issue that had baffled four prime ministers.

The Prime Minister confirmed the breakthrough during a joint press conference with European Commission President Ursula van der Leyen in Windsor.

There was a notable embrace between the Prime Minister and Ms van der Leyen as they outlined their agreement on Monday, with the EU chief referring to the Prime Minister as a “dear Rishi” and hailing a “new chapter” in a strong EU-UK relationship.

As Mr Sunak flew back to London to address the Commons, details of the long-awaited deal went down well with some MPs who were expected to cause political problems for the prime minister.

Steve Baker, the cabinet minister for Northern Ireland and Brexit leader, said Mr Sunak had “pulled a blind eye”.

He said he was considering resigning “as late as yesterday” but “this deal should be good enough for any reasonable unionist”.

During a Commons debate, former prime minister Theresa May urged MPs to back the deal – but two other former leaders, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, did not attend.

Number 10 will be pleased with the response from the US, which has seen pending issues over arrangements in Northern Ireland hamper potential trade talks between London and Washington.

US President Joe Biden said the deal was “an important step to ensure that the hard work and progress of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement is preserved and strengthened”.

The deal, dubbed the Windsor Framework, replaces the Northern Ireland Protocol, which was signed by Mr Johnson and comes into force in 2021.

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

But under the deal, Northern Ireland must follow certain EU rules.

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Ursula van der Leyen met King Charles at Windsor Castle after the treaty was announced.

Mr Sunack said the new deal “delivers smoother trade across the whole of the United Kingdom, protects Northern Ireland’s place in our Union and protects the sovereignty of the people of Northern Ireland”.

  • Goods sent from Britain to Northern Ireland will travel through the new “green route”, with a separate “red route” for goods at risk of entry into the EU.
  • Products entering Northern Ireland via the Green Lane will face significantly reduced checks and documentation, while Red Lane products will be subject to normal checks.
  • A “Stormont break” allows the Northern Ireland legislature to object to “substantially different” EU rules applying in Northern Ireland.
  • UK VAT and Excise rules apply to immovable goods such as alcoholic beverages and heat pipes for immediate consumption in Northern Ireland. Former EU VAT rules may apply in Northern Ireland

But there is no guarantee that devolution will lead to a return to devolved government in Northern Ireland. In a statement, the DUP said “significant progress has been made in a number of areas” but concerns remain.

“It cannot be denied that EU law applies in Northern Ireland to some sectors of our economy,” it said.

The party said it will now scrutinize the agreement and seek “further clarification, reworking or modification as required”.

The nationalist Social Democratic and Labor Party and the non-nationalist or non-unionist Coalition welcomed the deal, although both said they had concerns about the Stormont break clause.

But the Traditionalist Unionist Voice party said the deal was “too much spin, not a lot of substance” and the protocol “will remain effective”.

The Ulster Unionist Party said it would study it closely but would not cover other parties.

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The DUP says it will take time to scrutinize the deal

Many pro-Brexit MPs have responded positively to the deal.

David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, said the Prime Minister had “pulled off a formidable negotiating victory” and had “secured an excellent deal”.

Former business secretary Andrea Leetsham said “huge progress” had been made, adding: “It now depends on whether communities in NI see it as the right solution.”

However, other Tory MPs were more cautious, with prominent Eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash saying “the devil is always in the detail”.

DUP MP Ian Paisley said the deal “falls short” in several key areas, including the continued role of the European Court of Justice as the final arbiter in disputes over EU rules.

“My instinct is that it doesn’t cut the mustard,” he told BBC Newsnight.

Mr Sunak said Parliament would vote on the deal “in due course” but MPs needed time to consider the details.

Labor has said it supports a deal, but the government is reluctant to rely on opposition votes.

Chairman Sir Keir Starmer said the deal was not “perfect” but “now that it has been agreed, we all have a duty to implement it”.

Mr Sunack confirmed the government would abandon the controversial Northern Ireland protocol bill introduced by Mr Johnson when he was prime minister, and would have given the UK the power to unilaterally scrap parts of the old deal.

He said the bill was no longer needed and the original legal justification for it had “fallen away”.

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