Rishi Sunak in Northern Ireland to sell ‘breakthrough’ Windsor Framework deal with EU
The Prime Minister is seeking support for his post-Brexit deal after agreeing the Windsor Framework with the EU
The new deal removes barriers on trade across the Irish Sea and hands a “veto” to politicians in Stormont on EU law – a set of concessions from Brussels that went further than some expected.
But it still includes a role for the European Court of Justice, with the Democratic Unionist Party and Tory backbenchers now set to study closely the details of the complex set of arrangements in the coming days.
The plan includes measures to create green and red trade routes over the Irish Sea, make changes to VAT and excise duties, and a settlement on medicines.
A so-called emergency “Stormont brake” is also a key part of the deal, designed to allow the Northern Ireland Assembly to block any EU law changes coming into force in the region, with No 10 hopeful it will ensure concerns over a “democratic deficit” are addressed.
The Prime Minister called it a “very powerful mechanism” for Stormont to use when it has concerns over EU law, as he heralded the overall deal as a “decisive breakthrough”.
He said: “Together we have changed the original protocol and are today announcing the new Windsor Framework. Today’s agreement 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.”
Sunak promised the deal would be a “turning point” for Northern Ireland after years of post-Brexit tensions. The PM, who is also expected to speak to backbench MPs on Tuesday (28 February), spoke at length in the Commons on the deal as he sought to see off any threat of rebellion from within his own ranks.
But the reception so far has been warm, with DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson welcoming “significant progress” even as he warned that “there remain key issues of concern” regarding the deal. The view of the party will be crucial if the deal is to help restore powersharing at Stormont.
MPs are expected to get a vote on the deal, but Downing Street has not yet said when or how a vote might take place.
Leaders in the EU and beyond hailed the progress, with Ms von der Leyen praising the “new chapter in our partnership” while French President Emmanuel Macron spoke of the “important decision”.
US President Joe Biden said it was an “essential step” in protecting the Good Friday Agreement, while in Dublin Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the EU had moved “a lot” to facilitate a deal.
Former prime minister Boris Johnson, who until only recently had been urging Sunak to see the benefits of the newly-jettisoned Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, remained silent on Monday. A source close to the former PM said that he is continuing to study and reflect on the government’s proposals.
Elsewhere within the Conservative party there was enthusiastic backing for the Prime Minister, with many senior Tories praising the deal.
Northern Ireland minister and former Brexit rebel Steve Baker was one of the most ardent backers of the deal, comparing the level of “statecraft” involved in the negotiations to that leading up to the Good Friday Agreement.
Speaking on ITV1’s Peston, he said: “I think it’s a really historic moment. I think this is capable of bringing this awful rollercoaster row to an end, if the DUP are satisfied with it. I think it’s an incredibly important moment.”
Writing in the Telegraph, Chairman of the backbench 1922 Sir Graham Brady said: “The so-called ‘Windsor Framework’ won’t be perfect but it looks like a massive step forward.”
Tory Brexiteers in the European Research Group (ERG) will meet on Tuesday and will convene MP Sir Bill Cash’s so-called “star chamber” of lawyers to scrutinise the deal before deciding whether to back it.
The protocol was designed to prevent a hard border with Ireland after Brexit but means Northern Ireland has continued to follow EU rules on goods to prevent checks being needed when crossing into the Republic.
Unionists’ anger over the trade barriers in the Irish Sea culminated in the DUP collapsing powersharing in February last year, leaving Northern Ireland without an executive or an assembly.