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by Adam Payne
27 February 2023
Brexit: Final talks due on Northern Ireland Protocol

Ursula von der Leyen and Rishi Sunak previously met during COP27 in Egypt

Brexit: Final talks due on Northern Ireland Protocol

The UK and European Union are today expected to announce that they have finally reached an agreement on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Downing Street is currently planning for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to confirm the much-anticipated deal this afternoon alongside European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who will be in the UK.

Sunak will then lay out the details of the deal to MPs with a House of Commons statement later in the day. 

There he will attempt to convince the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and avidly pro-Brexit MPs in the Conservative party to back the new pact with Brussels. Fierce backlash from both parties has so far stalled Sunak's attempts to get a deal over the line after he was initially expected to confirm its details early last week. 

An agreement on the post-Brexit treaty for Northern Ireland would represent a major achievement for Sunak, with a deal having eluded his predecessors Boris Johnson and Liz Truss despite months of negotiations. Last week's failure to launch however has caused those close to the issue to question Sunak's political nous, with the DUP complaining that not enough was done to get them on board with the deal earlier, while Sunak's detractors in Westminster, including Johnson, made merry with his weakened position. 

A Downing Street spokesperson said that Sunak and von der Leyen would "continue their work in person towards shared, practical solutions for the range of complex challenges facing trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland". The pair will meet in Windsor, Berkshire, where they are expected to bring many months of impasse over the post-Brexit treaty to an end.

The agreement is expected to significantly reduce the number of checks carried out on goods traded across the Irish Sea by establishing a "green lane" on items remaining in Northern Ireland, and a "red lane" for those heading to the Republic of Ireland, which is an EU member state.

It is also expected to reduce the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and give Northern Irish politicians more say in EU laws that apply to the region.

Key to the success of the deal will be whether it persuades the DUP to return to government at Stormont after the unionist party walked out of Northern Ireland's power-sharing arrangements in early 2022.

The party led by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is refusing to form a government in Stormont over its opposition to the current protocol, which it says has undermined Northern Ireland's place in the UK.

No 10 is also braced for anger from the Tory party's most hardline Brexiteers in the European Research Group (ERG). There is a belief, however, that the ERG is not as powerful as it was when it helped bring down former prime minister Theresa May over Brexit several years ago, and that the scale of a potential rebellion has been exaggerated. 

The Northern Ireland Protocol was agreed as part of Brexit divorce talks as a way of avoiding a contentious hard border on the island of Ireland. It did so by creating controversial trade barriers between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which both sides have been committed to reducing.

Read more on PoliticsHome.

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