Ursula von der Leyen and ‘dear Rishi’ unveil a new relationship

Watch: Rishi Sunak strikes post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol deal with EU

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said the agreement to rewrite Northern Ireland’s Brexit arrangements opened a “new chapter” in relations between the UK and the EU.

Speaking alongside RIshi Sunak in Windsor’s Guildhall – a wedding venue for both actual and showbiz royalty – the commission president was clear that she had been able to form a more productive relationship with the Prime Minister than his predecessors in No 10.

The Windsor Framework will significantly reduce the burdens faced by people in Northern Ireland seeking goods and medicines on the same basis as counterparts in the rest of the UK.

In doing so, it rewrites the Northern Ireland Protocol which was signed, but subsequently disowned, by Boris Johnson

The warmth in the relationship between Ms von der Leyen and the man she called “dear Rishi” was in marked contrast to the strains which became apparent when Mr Johnson and his chief negotiator Lord Frost set about trying to rewrite the protocol.

In the building which saw the weddings of the King and his Queen Consort and Sir Elton John and David Furnish, Ms von der Leyen set out why she and Mr Sunak were able to “deliver on an important commitment” to each other.

Explaining how Mr Sunak had succeeded where his predecessors had failed, she said there had been “a lot of goodwill”.

In the context of shared problems – Ukraine and the fight against climate change – she said the pair realised the need to resolve the dispute between the UK and EU so they could stand “shoulder to shoulder”.

She said: “We want the best solution for the people of Northern Ireland in the situation that we have right now.

“So there was a very constructive attitude from the very beginning to solve problems to find solutions, practical solutions for everyday life, for people and businesses in Northern Ireland.

“That’s what we’ve done. We’ve jointly developed the solutions. It needed a lot of goodwill and knowledge and we have jointly agreed on that now.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen during a press conference at the Guildhall in Windsor (Dan Kitwood/PA)

Mr Sunak paid an “enormous personal tribute” to Ms von der Leyen for “her vision in recognising the possibility of a new way forward”.

Ms von der Leyen spoke under the watchful gaze of the portraits of dozens of former monarchs and was also granted an audience with the King as part of her visit to the UK – something which critics said risked politicising the royal family.

Audience at Windsor Castle
The King receives European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen during an audience at Windsor Castle (Aaron Chown/PA)

Despite the positive atmosphere of the joint press conference, there were still signs that old problems in the UK-EU relationship could resurface.

European Union laws will continue to apply in relation to the single market – although a Stormont brake will allow Northern Ireland’s politicians to raise concerns.

Ms von der Leyen said Brussels would also be consulted on UK laws which could impact on the EU’s single market.

And the European Court of Justice will remain “the sole and ultimate arbiter of EU law” and single market issues.

But Ms von der Leyen hoped that through a process of consultation and dialogue, the use of emergency measures such as the Stormont brake could be avoided.