How Rishi’s new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland could look: Red and green customs channels, most EU rules scrapped… but DUP warns it won’t be enough to restore powersharing if European judges STILL have the final say
Rishi Sunak’s new Brexit package for Northern Ireland is the result of months of painstaking negotiation.
The PM has been deeply involved in hammering out new terms, despite warnings from many quarters that he is putting his premiership on the line.
There has been a desperate push from both sides to make progress before the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement this spring.
But although there is evidence Mr Sunak has secured significant concessions, Tories and the DUP are warning he has not done enough to break the impasse that has brought politics in the province to a standstill.
The UK and EU are unveiling a new deal on Brexit terms for Northern ireland today
Rishi Sunak (right) has been deeply involved in hammering out new terms with Ursula von der Leyen (left), despite warnings from many quarters that he is putting his premiership on the line
No10 is hoping that DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson will make a neutral statement on the protocol deal today
What’s the problem with the existing deal?
One of the main problems during the Brexit process was how to treat Northern Ireland.
When the UK became a ‘third country’, the situation would have been simply solved by creating a ‘hard’ border with physical checks on vehicles and people.
But that is forbidden by the The Good Friday Agreement, which drew a line under decades of sectarian violence in 1998.
That pact was carefully ambiguous about the status of Northern Ireland, allowing unionists and republicans to claim they had stood by key principles. That relied on both the UK and EU being under the same customs and regulatory regimes.
Boris Johnson agreed the Protocol in the original divorce terms. It attempted to resolve the issues by drawing a supposedly ‘invisible’ customs line in the Irish Sea, and leaving Northern Ireland in the EU single market.
However, unionists pointed out that the customs border was far from seamless, and have objected in principle to the idea that Northern Ireland follows a foreign power’s regulatory rules – without any say over how those rules are set.
How has that affected Northern Ireland politics?
There have been worrying signs of a rise in violent sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland.
The DUP has always demanded the scrapping of the protocol, and forced the suspension of Stormont in February 2022 by refusing to participate in powersharing.
The Good Friday Agreement dictates that both the largest unionist and the largest republican parties must nominate the first minister and deputy first minister roles for the administration to function.
After Northern Ireland elections in May 2022 Sinn Fein emerged as the largest party overall for the first time – meaning they should hold the First Minister role. However, the DUP has continue to boycott the executive.
The UK government is usually obliged to call elections in these circumstances, but they look unlikely to produce a different outcome and have been delayed while a deal is thrashed out.
What has Sunak managed to get from the EU?
Brussels is thought to have agreed to ditch checks and paperwork on almost all goods and produce sent from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland.
Red and green customs channels will be used to distinguish what is bound for the province and the Republic, which remained inside the EU
Mr Sunak is believed to have secured a package that removes single market rules from 90 per cent of products made in Northern Ireland, as long as they are not bound for the EU.
There has been a desperate push from both sides to make progress before the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement this spring
Although Northern Ireland might still be covered by future EU legislation, there will be a democratic mechanism intended to ensure the province’s politicians have a say and consultation with London.
In one of the potential flashpoints, the European Court of Justice will stay as the final arbiter on single market rules in Northern Ireland.
But there will be protections designed to demonstrate that cases cannot be referred directly by the EU.
A crucial win is that Mr Sunak appears to have persuaded the bloc that the text of the protocol should be tweaked – something it had previously refused to do.
Will it be enough to win over the DUP and Tory Eurosceptics?
There is no chance of a DUP endorsement today. The best No10 is hoping for is that leader Jeffrey Donaldson will make a neutral statement.
But other unionists are likely to condemn the proposals, and some Tory Eurosceptics are already signalling they will be opposed.
The numbers do look smaller than previous Tory revolts, meaning that Mr Sunak has a good chance of carrying a Commons vote on the new package.
Although formally there is not a requirement for a vote, the government is almost certain to hold one – not least because backbenchers and Labour would find a way of forcing it otherwise.
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