"A new chapter": EU and UK agree on revised Northern Ireland deal
The United Kingdom and the European Union have struck a new deal on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland. British prime minister Rishi Sunak speaks of a "new chapter in the British-European relationship".
Rumours had been buzzing for weeks that the European Commission and the UK government were on the verge of settling on the Northern Ireland Protocol, which accompanies the Brexit deal and stipulates that Northern Ireland, which falls under the UK, will remain part of the European single market and customs union. Therefore, goods exported from the UK to EU member state Ireland are subject to border controls without creating a "hard border" between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Such a border could jeopardise peace on the island of Ireland.
However, because of the Northern Ireland Protocol, customs controls happen between Britain and Northern Ireland, a thorn in the side of Northern Ireland unionists and Conservative hardliners in the British parliament. Furthermore, the arrangement causes practical problems for supplies in Northern Ireland. For all these reasons, the protocol was until now only half-heartedly implemented by the UK, which earned the British several European infringement proceedings. The Commission was unwilling to alter the principles of the protocol.
After months of arduous negotiations, the UK and the EU Commission have now found a compromise, which British PM Sunak says removes "any sense of a border" between Britain and Northern Ireland. The solution consists of creating a 'green lane' and a 'red lane' for goods from Britain. No more extensive border controls are required if goods are destined for the Northern Ireland market. Extensive customs controls remain in place only for goods being exported to the European market.
A visibly elated Sunak spoke of a "big step forward" and a "solution to all the practical problems"
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen travelled to London on Monday to officially finalise the deal and explain the agreement - christened the 'Windsor Framework' - alongside British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at a press conference.
A visibly elated Sunak spoke of a "big step forward" and a "solution to all the practical problems" faced by families and businesses in Northern Ireland today under the influence of the Northern Ireland Protocol. Von der Leyen spoke of a "new chapter in the partnership" and "the beginning of a stronger relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom".
The question remains whether the UK prime minister will manage to secure the British parliament's support for the revised deal. The role of the European Court of Justice, in particular, threatens to be a stumbling block. The Court upholds the rules defined by the protocol, which, according to opponents, means that European rules indirectly still apply in Northern Ireland. At the press conference, Von der Leyen called it "logical that the European Court is and remains the sole arbiter on EU law."
Sunak will address the House of Commons on Monday evening around 7.30 pm (Belgian time).
British prime minister Rishi Sunak (left) and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen (right) © PHOTO Dan Kitwood / POOL / AFP