OPINION - The Standard View: Northern Ireland Protocol deal is a fork in the road for Rishi Sunak
It is shaping up to be a make-or-break week for the Prime Minister. Should he succeed in gaining an agreement from all parties on the Northern Ireland Protocol, it will strengthen his hand and potentially lay the foundations for a turnaround in Conservative fortunes. If he fails, and the Tory Brexit wars reignite, it could render him only the latest Tory leader to be undone by Europe.
Rishi Sunak appears to have secured substantive concessions from the EU in addressing issues relating to the Protocol negotiated by Boris Johnson. First, a reduction in checks for goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland, with those for export to the EU entering a ‘red lane’. Second on state aid regulations and third on the so-called democratic deficit, enabling a greater say for Stormont, albeit without removing the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
Of course, agreement with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen does not guarantee a compliant parliamentary party, let alone the DUP. While Labour support means Sunak is guaranteed to win any vote, he will be hoping for more than a technical knockout.
There is a broader prize on offer too. Sorting this issue will enable the UK and EU to move on and address other deficiencies in the Trade and Co-operation Agreement, potentially helping to facilitate Britain’s entry into Horizon, the multi-billion pound science research programme. The Protocol required improvement and Parliament should support the deal if and when it comes before it.
A new dawn at Bank
The seven-year, £700 million transformation of Bank station has been a long time coming but is finally complete. New lifts, escalators, access and walkways have increased capacity at the station by 40 per cent. Today’s official opening marked the final milestone in a fiendishly complex construction project that began in April 2016.
Anyone who has used Bank — or got lost in it — should appreciate the difference. Given its sheer size, the station, which alongside Monument serves four Tube lines and the DLR, may never prove the most straightforward of interchanges. But this redevelopment, one of the largest on the network, is an important moment for the Square Mile and the City as a whole as it continues to lead the pandemic recovery. London can never stay still.
Aladdin Sane fever
If you have no idea what is in the charts but can remember David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane like it was yesterday, there is good news. The 50th anniversary of the legendary album is being celebrated with a series of events at the Southbank Centre.
Aladdin Sane: 50 Years will feature a two-month-long display, opening on April 6, featuring original artwork and a concert playing the 1973 record in full. Throw in the V&A exhibition and it is turning out to be a propitious year for Bowie fans.
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