Ministers will not sign off on a deal over Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trading arrangements without the backing of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the Foreign Secretary has suggested.
James Cleverly indicated on Friday that Britain will not approve changes over the Northern Ireland Protocol with the European Union until the DUP’s concerns are addressed.
Brussels and the UK are negotiating changes to the agreement to allay unionists’ concerns that it has created trade barriers with Britain.
The DUP has been boycotting powersharing in Northern Ireland in protest at the protocol, which was designed to prevent a hard border with Ireland after Brexit.
Mr Cleverly told Times Radio: “The things they’re concerned about, the things we’re concerned about, are absolutely in alignment and we are focused on resolving all the issues that need resolving.
“Some of them are technical trade issues and very complicated and some of them are really simple but important principles, like Northern Ireland’s place as an integral part of the United Kingdom. And that sense of sovereignty, the importance of a democratic voice.
“So when, hopefully, we get those issues resolved then I would hope that the DUP would recognise that we’ve addressed their concerns and until we have addressed those concerns we’re not going to sign off on the deal.”
The DUP has issued seven tests to win its backing for any deal, including addressing what it calls the “democratic deficit” meaning the nation is subject to EU rules.
A deal had been hoped for this week but Downing Street said on Friday that “intensive discussions” with the EU were ongoing.
Unusually, Downing Street declined to set out Mr Sunak’s plans for the weekend, only saying that he was working in No 10 on Friday.
“I haven’t seen the final details of his diary for the weekend,” a No 10 spokesman said.
He added there “may be” further talks with Brussels on Friday.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson declined to say whether he would back any new deal negotiated by his successor Mr Sunak in the latest sign he could face a rebellion on the Tory backbenches.
Instead, the former prime minister backed as the best solution his Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which could effectively rip up parts of the agreement he brokered.
Mr Johnson told Sky News: “I think that it is important to wait to see what there may be but I think the best way forward, as I said when I was running the Government, is the Northern Ireland Bill, which cleared the Commons very comfortably, I think unamended, when I was in office and only a few months ago.
“So, I think that is the best way forward.”
The Downing Street spokesman responded: “Negotiations are continuing so there isn’t a finalised deal for people to take a judgment on.”