Monday’s meeting between British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the head of the European Union, Ursula von der Leyen, aims to finalize a new agreement for Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit commercial arrangements.
Despite it being unclear whether any agreement will go far enough to appease critics in Britain and Northern Ireland, it appears that more than a year of intermittent and occasionally contentious negotiations between London and Brussels on an overhaul of a portion of the 2020 EU exit deal are nearing an end.
According to a joint statement issued on Sunday, “(Sunak and von der Leyen) agreed to continue their work in person towards shared, practical solutions for the range of complex challenges around the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland.”
“President von der Leyen will therefore meet with the prime minister in the UK tomorrow,” it added.
Sunak is attempting to succeed where his predecessors Boris Johnson and Liz Truss failed in negotiations, but the push runs the risk of obstructing his domestic priorities as he attempts to reverse a significant opinion poll deficit for his Conservative Party before a national election that is anticipated for next year.
The announcement of an agreement is probably just the beginning, even if it is agreed upon with Brussels.
Important figures in Northern Ireland have high standards for the kind of agreement they will accept, and Sunak’s own Conservatives are still riven by the Brexit-related conflicts that have occasionally rendered British politics inoperative since the country’s 2016 decision to leave the EU.
Britain agreed to the Northern Ireland Protocol with Brussels as part of its exit deal in order to avoid implementing divisive border controls along Ireland’s 500 km (310 mi) land border with the EU.
But because the protocol kept Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods, it essentially established a border for some goods coming from Britain.
In a series of interviews with the media earlier on Sunday, Dominic Raab, UK’s deputy prime minister, claimed that the deal would ease trade tensions by eliminating the physical inspections of goods that the EU had previously required.
He added that the agreement aimed to allay worries that the EU could impose regulations on Northern Ireland that would be impervious to the region’s citizens and political leaders.
“If there are any new rules that would apply in relation to Northern Ireland, it must be right that there’s a Northern Irish democratic check on that,” he told BBC.
Raab did not go so far as to state that Northern Ireland would no longer be decided by European courts. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which is presently refusing to enter a new power-sharing arrangement in Northern Ireland, has made that one of its main demands.
The DUP has outlined seven criteria for any agreement. The Sunday Times, British Sunday newspaper, reported that although Sunak was certain the agreement fulfilled these requirements, DUP party head Jeffrey Donaldson was “minded to reject the agreement.”
Without DUP support, Northern Ireland might continue to lack a devolved government, which would indicate that one of Sunak’s main goals for the renegotiation has been unsuccessful.
The risk that Sunak’s party splits and his plan for the economy, health care reform, and immigration reform is derailed is increased by the claim made by a eurosceptic faction of the Conservative Party that it will follow the DUP’s final decision.
When asked if parliament would vote on accepting the agreement, Raab responded that lawmakers would have a chance to voice their opinions, but he did not specifically guarantee a vote.