Has Rishi done the impossible? Feared Tory rebellion on Brexit melts away as Sunak unveils historic Northern Ireland deal with the EU
- Fears of a Tory revolt melted away after Rishi Sunak secured a new deal with EU
- The PM and EU Commission chief unveiled the historic agreement yesterday
By Jason Groves and David Churchill and Martin Beckford For The Daily Mail
Published: | Updated:
A feared Tory revolt on Brexit melted away last night after Rishi Sunak unveiled a historic deal with the EU.
After weeks of secret talks, the Prime Minister and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen finalised an agreement to fix post-Brexit problems that have dogged Northern Ireland.
Mr Sunak said the ‘decisive breakthrough’ would herald a new chapter in relations between London and Brussels and claimed the UK had ‘finally taken back control’.
He told MPs the deal did ‘what many said could not be done – removing thousands of pages of EU laws … and making permanent, legally binding changes to the Protocol Treaty’.
The scale of the concessions from the EU took MPs by surprise and Mr Sunak appeared to be on the brink of a coup as the predicted Tory revolt faltered.
Rishi Sunak (centre) after speaking in the House of Commons earlier today following the announcement of the new Northern Ireland protocol
After weeks of secret talks, the Prime Minister and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen finalised an agreement to fix post-Brexit problems that have dogged Northern Ireland
No Conservative MPs directly criticised the deal when he presented it to the Commons last night.
However, the DUP, whose support is needed to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland, reserved judgment, with one of the party’s MPs warning it did not ‘cut the mustard’.
EU President Ursula Von Der Leyen travelled to the UK today to meet UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to sign off on the agreement on the post-Brexit trade arrangements for Northern Ireland
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Boris Johnson also kept his counsel on the proposals, which unpick part of his Brexit deal.
A source said that he would ‘study and reflect’ before setting out his verdict. He is reported to have urged the DUP to treat the plans with caution.
The Times reports that Mr Johnson spoke with the PM in recent days and was given a ‘broad outline’ of the deal. Mr Sunak is also understood to have ‘reached out’ with Liz Truss, although she did not respond.
But former PM Theresa May backed the deal, as did leading Brexiteers.
In a joint article in the Mail today, David Davis, Dominic Raab and Steve Barclay described the proposals as a ‘complete and utter game-changer’ that would finally deliver ‘the Brexit we voted for and promised to deliver’.
The trio all served as Brexit secretary in negotiations with the EU, with both Mr Davis and Mr Raab resigning over Mrs May’s proposals for an exit deal.
They said: ‘What the Prime Minister has achieved is what no one thought would be possible.
‘He has scrapped 1,700 pages of EU law and made radical and permanent changes to the Protocol Treaty to end the ratchet of EU law.
‘We are all Conservatives. We are all Unionists. We are all Brexiteers. We can and must make Brexit work for all parts of the UK and the deal that the Prime Minister has struck will do so.
‘We can finally move on from disagreeing about Brexit to focusing on the opportunities.’
AT A GLANCE: WHAT DOES THE STORMONT DEAL MEAN IN REAL TERMS?
The Northern Ireland assembly can object to EU single market rules, allowing the UK Government to impose a veto.
Two routes will exits for goods going from the United Kingdom to Northern Ireland. The Green Lane will apply to products destined for Northern Ireland, which will have less burdensome checks than those in the Red Lane for the Republic of Ireland.
PETS AND PRODUCTS
Rules forcing pet owners to show up-to-date vet’s certificates of health an rabies vaccinations will be scrapped. Owners only have to state their pet is microchipped and will to travel to the EU.
VAT changes will apply to the whole of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. Zero-rating of VAT on solar panels and reforms to alcohol duties will apply.
The proportion of EU rules served on Northern Ireland will cut to 3 per cent.
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Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker compared the level of ‘statecraft’ involved in the Brexit deal negotiations to that leading up to the Good Friday Agreement.
Mr Baker told ITV’s Peston programme: ‘Personally, I think it’s a kind of, for want of a better term, statesmanship, which is at the level of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.’
Alliance Party leader Naomi Long, speaking on the same programme, rejected that comparison: ‘I think Steve is getting a bit carried away with himself this evening.’
Mr Sunak said the agreement, named the ‘Windsor Framework’, would deliver ‘significant improvements’ for people in Northern Ireland, where trade has been disrupted by post-Brexit rules.
And he predicted that the deal could clear the way for a wider reset of relations with Brussels.
‘The UK and the EU may have had our differences in the past, but we are allies, trading partners and friends,’ he said. ’This is the beginning of a new chapter in our relationship.’
Mrs von der Leyen said the deal would heal the ‘difficulties’ in Britain’s relations with Brussels.
Emmanuel Macron welcomed the deal between the EU and UK on the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The French president tweeted: ‘The United Kingdom and the European Union have just reached an agreement on implementing the post-Brexit framework in Northern Ireland.
‘I welcome this important decision, which will preserve the Good Friday Agreement and protect our European internal market.’
The breakthrough came as:
- Mr Sunak ended days of speculation by pledging that MPs would get a vote on the proposals;
- The UK secured a ‘Stormont Brake’ that gives Northern Ireland a veto over the imposition of future EU laws in the province;
- Officials conceded Brussels would still set rules in areas such as manufactured goods and food;
- Mr Sunak confirmed the Government would scrap Mr Johnson’s Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which would have allowed the UK to take unilateral action but threatened to trigger a trade war;
- Downing Street was accused of dragging King Charles into the political arena by advising him to grant an audience to Mrs von der Leyen after the deal was struck;
- The EU chief suggested the deal could lead to further co-operation, including allowing the UK back into Europe’s Horizon science programme.
Ms von der Leyen and Mr Sunak chat as they go into the Fairmont Windsor Park hotel today
The slick document published by the government today outlining the terms of the new deal
Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill and Connor Murphy speaking in Stormont
US President Joe Biden has called Rishi Sunak’s Brexit deal with the EU an ‘essential step’ in protecting the Good Friday Agreement.
In a White House statement, the US president praised the efforts of London and Brussels to secure the deal, after Mr Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen unveiled the Windsor Framework on Monday.
Mr Biden said that the deal was an ‘essential step to ensuring that the hard-earned peace and progress of the Belfast and Good Friday Agreement is preserved and strengthened’.
He said: ‘I appreciate the efforts of the leaders and officials on all sides who worked tirelessly to find a way forward that protects Northern Ireland’s place within the UK’s internal market as well as the EU’s single market, to the benefit of all communities in Northern Ireland.
What is in Rishi’s new ‘Windsor Framework’ for NI?
Green lanes for trade:
Goods destined from mainland Britain for Northern Ireland will travel through a new green lane, with a separate red lane for goods at risk of moving on to the EU.
Food retailers like supermarkets, restaurants and wholesalers will no longer need hundreds of certificates for every lorry and we will end the situation where food made to UK rules could not be sent to and sold in Northern Ireland.
Taking back control of tax:
The legal text of the of the NI protocol has been altered to make sure the UK has control of VAT and excise duty in Northern Ireland.
Mr Sunak said the change would reduce alcohol duty ‘meaning our reforms to cut the cost of a pint in a pub will now apply in Northern Ireland’.
Medicines and pets:
UK medicine regulations will apply in Northern Ireland, and there will also be fewer controls on pets be transported to and from mainland Britain.
The Stormont Assembly, which has not sat since the DUP withdrew from its power-sharing executive in February last year, will gain new powers over the introduction of new EU trade laws that could have a large impact on trade.
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‘I am confident the people and businesses of Northern Ireland will be able to take full advantage of the economic opportunities created by this stability and certainty, and the United States stands ready to support the region’s vast economic potential.’
Mr Biden’s backing is a significant boost for Mr Sunak. The US president has long taken a close interest in the peace process in Northern Ireland and has spoken often about his own Irish heritage
The Windsor Framework is designed to tackle problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has been blamed for driving a wedge between the province and the rest of the UK.
It creates a ‘green lane’ that will scrap almost all EU checks on goods arriving in Northern Ireland from the UK, ending a practice that has triggered shortages and political divisions.
The PM said the deal would remove ‘any sense of a border in the Irish Sea’ and meant that if food was available in Great Britain then it would also be available on shelves in Northern Ireland.
It will restore the UK Government’s full control over tax rates and state subsidies in the province, which was weakened by the Protocol.
The Brexit deal left Northern Ireland effectively inside the EU’s single market in order to prevent the creation of a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Mr Sunak said a ‘minimal’ amount of EU trade law would still apply. But he said the ‘Stormont Brake’ would allow the NI Assembly to block the introduction of EU trade laws.
The move is designed to tackle a ‘democratic deficit’, which has been a key concern for Unionists in Ulster.
The PM hopes the deal will win the approval of the DUP so power-sharing can be restored in Northern Ireland for the first time in more than a year. Last night the party gave a mixed response to the proposals.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said his party’s ‘principled opposition’ to the Protocol had been ‘vindicated’.
He said it was clear that ‘significant progress has been secured’. But he said his party needed to study the detail as there was ‘no disguising the fact that in some sectors EU law remains applicable’.
But prominent MP Ian Paisley Jr said the democratic safeguards did not ‘cut the mustard’.
And fellow DUP MP Sammy Wilson said his colleagues ‘do not have confidence and still fear our position in the UK is not going to be restored by this agreement’.
On the Tory benches the deal was welcomed by most MPs.
Former Cabinet minister Sajid Javid said the PM had secured ‘jaw-dropping concessions from the EU without giving anything in return’.
Former Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith said it was a ‘critical day in ending three years of political instability’.
Mark Francois, chairman of the European Research Group of Tory MPs, asked for reassurances that there were no ‘nasty surprises’ in the detail of the legal text.
The ERG has said it would establish a ‘star chamber’ of lawyers to pass judgment on the deal.
But former ERG chairman Steve Baker urged MPs to back the deal.
No Conservative MPs directly criticised the deal when he presented it to the Commons last night
Mr Baker confirmed he had been considering resigning from his post as a Northern Ireland minister as recently as Sunday, but had been won round by the details of Mr Sunak’s agreement.
He said the Stormont Brake was ‘an extraordinary achievement’, adding: ‘I am terrifically pleased.
‘I can earnestly say that at last one chapter of our history may close and another open in a new spirit of partnership with the EU.’
In an incentive to the DUP to return to power-sharing, the ‘Stormont Brake’ can only operate if the Assembly is up and running.
On giving MPs a confirmatory vote, Mr Sunak said: ‘It is important that we give everyone the time and the space they need to consider the detail of the framework.
‘But ultimately this isn’t necessarily about me, it is not about politicians, it is about the people in Northern Ireland, it is about what is best for them.’
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Feared Tory rebellion on Brexit melts away as Sunak unveils historic Northern Ireland deal with EU