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British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak PA Images
NI Protocol

Protocol talks: Sunak promises to be 'resolute', says MPs will get chance to 'express view'

The UK Government and the EU are still negotiating changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

RISHI SUNAK HAS promised to be “resolute” in defending Northern Ireland as he seeks a deal to rewrite the terms of its post-Brexit arrangements.

The British Prime Minister indicated that he would put any new deal to MPs House of Commons for a chance to express their views, risking a showdown with Eurosceptics on the Tory benches.

The UK Government and the European Union are still negotiating changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol, the arrangements aimed at preventing a hard border on the island of Ireland. 

“I am a Conservative, a Brexiter and a unionist, and any agreement that we reach needs to tick all three boxes,” Sunak told MPs during Prime Minister’s Questions. 

“It needs to ensure sovereignty for Northern Ireland, it needs to safeguard Northern Ireland’s place in our union, and it needs to find practical solutions to the problems faced by people and businesses,” he said. 

“I will be resolute in fighting for what is best for Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer said his party’s MPs would vote to get a deal through the Commons, suggesting that Sunak should rely on opposition support rather than trying to win over the “irreconcilables”, the “malcontents” and “wreckers” on the Tory benches.

He said the British Prime Minister had to be “honest” that there would be a continued role for the European Court of Justice and Northern Ireland would have to continue to follow some of Brussels’ laws.

Being forced to rely on Labour votes to overcome a revolt on his own benches would undermine Sunak’s leadership and he is determined to win over potential rebels.

Sunak said he wanted a deal that guaranteed “sovereignty for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland’s place in our precious union” and provided “practical solutions to the problems faced by people and businesses”.

He added: “I have a good understanding of what is required and I will keep fighting until we get it.”

Sunak said Starmer’s approach was to “give the EU a blank cheque and agree to anything they offer. It’s not a strategy, that’s surrender”.

Pressed on whether MPs would get a vote on any changes to the protocol agreed with Brussels, Sunak said: “Of course Parliament will express its view.”

The protocol, agreed as part of the UK’s Brexit deal, effectively kept Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods, meaning checks on products crossing from Great Britain.

The situation led to the collapse of powersharing in Northern Ireland, with the DUP protesting about the barrier to trade with the rest of the UK.

With the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in April, there is symbolic importance in getting a deal which could allow the Stormont administration to be re-established.

DUP stance

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson told Sunak: “It is unacceptable that Northern Ireland has been put in this place with a protocol imposed upon us, that harms our place in the UK.

“It must be replaced with arrangements that are acceptable and restore our place in the UK and its internal market.”

He warned that it was “unacceptable” for EU laws to be imposed on Northern Ireland with no democratic scrutiny or consent and said any deal must not involve simply “tweaking” the protocol but instead “rewriting the legally binding treaty text”.

Sunak said addressing the “democratic deficit” was an essential part of the negotiations with Brussels and he had heard the DUP’s concerns “loud and clear”.

Donaldson addressed Tory Eurosceptics last night, and the views of the DUP on any deal will carry significant weight for potential Conservative rebels.

UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic have held a series of talks in recent days as intensive work to finalise a deal has continued.

Sefcovic yesterday said the EU has made “good progress” with the UK on the protocol talks and that they can clearly see the “finishing line”. 

He said the EU is “ready to progress as quickly as possible”, but added the negotiations are very complex and detailed.

“Therefore, we want to make sure we cross all the t’s … and arrive at a joint solution with our UK partners,” he said. 

Minister of State for European Affairs Peter Burke yesterday said it’s very important to grasp what he’s calling a “very narrow window of opportunity” when it comes to talks on the protocol. 

With reporting by Hayley Halpin

Press Association
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