The British government has reached an agreement with Brussels on the so-called Northern Ireland trade protocol. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, had traveled to London today for the negotiations.
British Prime Minister Sunak and von der Leyen signed the agreement in Windsor, outside London. The Commission President also spoke to King Charles there.
At a joint press conference this afternoon, Sunak spoke of “a breakthrough” in the trade dispute between the UK and the EU. He described the modified protocol as a “new chapter” in the trade relationship between the two.
Sunak said the deal, dubbed the Windsor Framework, amounts to two distinct flows of goods: a green and a red flow. Goods with Northern Ireland as their final destination no longer have to go through time-consuming and administratively complicated checks. For goods that have to go to Ireland from the UK, customs control in Northern Ireland will remain intact.
Sunak also promised that parliament in London will be able to vote on the amendments. “The result of that vote will be observed.”
In the British Parliament this evening, Sunak explained the Windsor Framework. He thanked the EU and von der Leyen for acknowledging that the old Northern Ireland protocol was a thorny issue within the United Kingdom. In the same debate, the opposition Labor Party said it would vote in favor of the deal. He also called on other parties to agree to the renewed package of agreements.
The Northern Ireland protocol was a sticking point for Belfast. For example, the unionists of the Protestant party DUP felt that it cut Northern Ireland off from the rest of the United Kingdom. The party refused to form a government until the issues surrounding the protocol were resolved.
Northern Ireland DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson spoke tonight of “significant progress” being made. But he also underlined that his party got the deal very well first will studybefore a detailed response.
The leader of Sinn Féin, the Catholic-Republican party that became the largest in the last election in Northern Ireland, said he was pleased that the negotiations have been completed. That party will also come later an extensive response. Leader Mary Lou McDonald also called on the DUP to break the deadlock around the formation.
Another stumbling block in Northern Irish politics is the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. The DUP has often insisted in the past that the UK had opted for Brexit, but that Northern Ireland was the only country bound by the protocol to the EU.
Sunak and von der Leyen said that the European Court of Justice will continue to play a role because Northern Ireland continues to partially follow EU trade rules. But according to the prime minister, a “handbrake” is being built in for the Northern Ireland parliament.
If that parliament does not agree with a new European law for compelling reasons, it can intervene. The UK must then inform the EU of this, after which the regulations are automatically suspended. In such a case, the British government can veto it. Speaking to parliament, Sunak said that the European Court of Justice cannot reverse that decision.
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