Rishi Sunak seeks to secure backing from Northern Ireland parties for post-Brexit deal
Rishi Sunak will continue to push forward with his new post-Brexit deal today as he seeks to convince politicians from Northern Ireland it will solve ongoing issues with trade and sovereignty.
The prime minister signed the Windsor Framework on Monday, alongside European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, to make changes to the much debated Northern Ireland Protocol, negotiated and signed by his predecessor Boris Johnson.
The plan includes measures to create green and red trade routes over the Irish Sea, make changes to VAT and excise duties, and a settlement on medicines.
Politics live: Sunak heads to Northern Ireland to sell 'breakthrough' Windsor Framework
There is also the introduction of the so-called Stormont brake, designed to allow the Northern Ireland Assembly to block any EU law changes from coming into force in the region.
How have MPs reacted to the new post-Brexit Northern Ireland deal?
The deal could be the key to getting the Assembly up and running again, after the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) refused to form an executive in protest at the protocol.
But the DUP are undecided on their position, with party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson telling MPs "significant progress has been secured across a number of areas", but "key issues of concern" remain.
"My party will want to study the detail of what has been published," he added, saying it would be compared to the party's seven tests for an acceptable agreement.
On Tuesday morning Foreign Secretary James Cleverly refused to rule out the possibility a DUP veto of the Windsor Framework.
Asked repeatedly if the unionists could scupper the deal, Mr Cleverly told Sky News it "ultimately is about making sure the people of Northern Ireland are served properly" by getting Stormont up and running again - and that it would be "hugely disappointing" if the DUP continue to refuse to sit.
Watch: Rishi Sunak seeks to secure backing from Northern Ireland parties for post-Brexit deal
Pushed again, he said he "refused to be drawn" on the question but did not deny the possibility of a DUP veto.
"The DUP are passionate representatives of their communities in Northern Ireland. They raised a number of concerns about the implementation of the Protocol. We listened very, very carefully and we have systematically gone through to resolve the issues," he said.
It is not yet clear when MPs will get to vote on the framework, but Mr Sunak confirmed on Monday it would come "at an appropriate time".
DUP 'still has whip hand'
Labour has vowed to support the government but Peter Kyle, the shadow Northern Ireland secretary, said while this would get the deal through parliament the next challenge "is whether it can be made to work".
"It'll be very difficult for the deal to work if you don't have devolved government up and running in Northern Ireland. Rishi Sunak has got a big challenge ahead," he told Sky News.
He claimed devolution collapsed because the government "ignored" the DUP's concerns over the Protocol and "once they pulled out, they were rewarded with being engaged with and they had power in this process".
Asked if the DUP has the whip hand he said "it does, of course it does".
Sunak 'hand on heart' believes deal addresses DUP concerns
Mr Sunak continued to defend his deal on the airwaves this morning, telling BBC Radio 4's Today programme he "hand on heart" believed it addressed concerns that led to the collapse of power-sharing in Stormont.
He said "less than 3%" of EU laws will apply to Northern Ireland in order for it to maintain access to the single market and avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland - which he said was important for all communities.
"This is ultimately about balance, " he said.
"At the heart of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement is the delicate balance that needs to exist in Northern Ireland, and that's about respect for the aspirations and identities of all communities."
He also indicated he had spoken to his former boss Mr Johnson about the Windsor Framework, saying: "Of course I speak to the former prime minister.
"But this is not about any of us, it is not about personalities, it is not about Westminster. This is about the people of Northern Ireland and what is best for them."
Mr Johnson has yet to make his thoughts known, with a source close to him saying for now he "continues to study and reflect on the government's proposals".
But last week, he told Sky News his own Northern Ireland Protocol Bill - overriding parts of the Brexit deal unilaterally - was still the "best way forward", despite concerns it could be unlawful.
Mr Sunak had already paused the bill's passage through parliament, and has now confirmed it would be dropped altogether, in return for the EU dropping legal proceedings against the UK.
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Brexit deal 'spectacular success'
Last night, his deal was widely welcomed by the most vocal Brexiteers on the Conservative benches, with David Davis calling it a "spectacular success".
Former PM Theresa May also said: "The best move now is for everybody across this House to support this settlement."
But one senior Tory Leaver, Sir Edward Leigh, said unless the deal got the NI Assembly up and running again, "it is pretty futile - indeed it might be downright dangerous".
He added: "I can assure [Mr Sunak] many of his colleagues on these benches are watching the DUP very carefully and we will go where they go."