Rishi Sunak Takes His Biggest Political Gamble As He Agrees New Brexit Deal With Brussels

Rishi Sunak greets Ursula Von Der Leyen, at the Fairmont Windsor Park hotel in Englefield Green, Windsor.
Rishi Sunak greets Ursula Von Der Leyen, at the Fairmont Windsor Park hotel in Englefield Green, Windsor.

Rishi Sunak greets Ursula Von Der Leyen, at the Fairmont Windsor Park hotel in Englefield Green, Windsor.

Rishi Sunak took the biggest political gamble of his life as he agreed a new Brexit deal with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

The prime minister said the “Windsor Framework” would solve the problems created by the Northern Ireland Protocol signed by Boris Johnson three years ago.

He said it would remove “any sense of a border in the Irish Sea” while also giving the UK government an effective veto on new EU laws being imposed on Northern Ireland.

However, at a joint-press conference, Sunak and von der Leyen both confirmed that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) will continue to have jurisdiction in Northern Ireland - a potential red line for Tory hardliners and the Democratic Unionist Party.

Sunak also revealed that MPs will be given a vote on his deal - teeing up a potential rebellion by Tory hardliners which could be a hammer blow to his authority.

Hailing the deal as “a decisive breakthrough”, Sunak said: ”[It] delivers smooth flowing trade within the whole United Kingdom, protects Northern Ireland’s place in our union and safeguards sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland.”

The PM said under the new agreement, goods travelling from Great Britain which are only destined for Northern Ireland would go through a “green lane” which means they will no longer be subject to customs checks.

A “red lane” will also be set up for goods “at risk of moving onto the EU”, Sunak said.

“It means food retailers like supermarkets, restaurants and wholesalers will no longer need hundreds of certificates for every lorry,” he said.

″And we will end the situation where food made to UK rules could not be sent to and sold in Northern Ireland.

″This means that if food is available on the supermarket shelves in Great Britain then it will be available on supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland.”

In a major victory for the prime minister, the UK government will also be allowed to set VAT rates in Northern Ireland, something the EU had previously resisted.

Sunak admitted that some EU laws will still apply in Northern Ireland, but only the “minimum necessary” to prevent a hard border with Ireland.

However, the biggest negotiating win for Sunak appears to be the agreement by the EU that the UK government can prevent new laws made in Brussels from applying in Northern Ireland.

This will be done via a “Stormont brake” triggered by the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Sunak said: “If the brake is pulled, the UK government will have a veto.

“This gives the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland a powerful new safeguard, based on cross community consent.”

Von der Leyen paid tribute to “dear Rishi” as she hailed a “new chapter in our partnership” that will foster a “stronger EU-UK relationship”.

But it was her comments on the ECJ which will most alarm the European Research Group of Tory hardline Brexiteers as well as the DUP.

She said: “The European Court of Justice is the sole and ultimate arbiter of EU law ... so the ECJ will have the final say on single market issues.”

In a sign of the trouble which is potentially brewing for Sunak, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson gave a cool response to the deal.

He said “significant progress” had been made, but “there remain key issues of concern”.

“The DUP will want to study the detail of what has been published today as well as examining the detail of any and all underpinning legal texts,” Donaldson said.

“Where necessary we stand ready to engage with the government in order to seek further clarification, re-working or change as required.

“Ultimately the party will now assess all these proposed outcomes and arrangements against our seven tests, outlined in our 2022 Assembly election manifesto, to determine whether what has been published meet our tests and whether it respects and restores Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom.”