Voices: Windsor Framework: Being on good terms with the EU used to feel impossible – not any more

There is a point in any negotiation when the time comes to cash in your negotiating chips and get the best possible deal (AFP/Getty)
There is a point in any negotiation when the time comes to cash in your negotiating chips and get the best possible deal (AFP/Getty)

Later today, Rishi Sunak will present his Brexit deal to the House of Commons. It will be signed at Windsor, and so will be called the Windsor Framework, which properly reflects the historic nature of this final Brexit deal.

From what has become apparent already, this is a significantly better settlement than any obtained by the prime minister’s predecessors, including Theresa May’s backstop and Boris Johnson’s protocol.

There have been widespread rumours about the content of the deal, and the government has understandably remained tight-lipped so as not to compromise its negotiating position.

But a few details have emerged. Under the Windsor Framework, there will be an enormous drop in the volume of checks and the number of EU rules that apply to goods moving between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. The UK and EU will place greater emphasis on market surveillance and trusted trader schemes to enforce relevant regulations.

There is also likely to be a major reduction in the role and powers of the European Court of Justice over issues relating to Northern Ireland. It looks as though the ECJ’s jurisdiction will be confined to issues relating solely to trade with the EU, as is appropriate.

At the weekend, deputy prime minister Dominic Raab suggested there would be a “democratic check” on any new rules introduced for Northern Ireland. This is a massively important innovation introduced by Sunak.

And as far as I can see, the deal meets the DUP’s seven Brexit tests. These tests are:

  1. No new checks on goods moving between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, except if they are going to the EU thereafter

  2. No contradiction of the Act of Union, ensuring all of the UK has the same footing as regards trade

  3. No diversion of trade forcing Northern Irish customers to use non-GB suppliers

  4. No Irish Sea border

  5. A role for Northern Irish citizens in any new regulations on them

  6. No new regulatory barriers between GB and Northern Ireland except where agreed by the Northern Ireland Assembly

  7. Honouring the “letter and spirit” of Northern Ireland’s constitutional position as set out in the Good Friday Agreement

Passing these tests is, of course, crucial to the success of any deal and to the restoration of power-sharing government in Northern Ireland.

We will hear about the content of the deal for certain later today, when Sunak makes a statement on what concessions he has obtained from the EU. But there is little doubt in my mind that this is a formidable technical negotiating achievement. What is more, it will leave us with a good ongoing relationship with the EU and, of course, with the Republic of Ireland. Before Sunak, that looked impossible. Now it is a reality, a doubly important one in this unstable era.

There are some who will worry about abandoning the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill in the wake of the new deal. But the Bill was always designed as a bargaining chip which would give the government leverage to obtain concessions from the EU. Sunak has used that leverage very skilfully and it has now achieved its purpose, so the best and most reasonable course of action is now to discard it.

Critics believe keeping the Bill will give us ongoing leverage. They also think the reformed Protocol is inadequate, in part because the deal will not totally eliminate the application EU rules in Northern Ireland. But there is a point in any negotiation when the time comes to cash in your negotiating chips and get the best possible deal.

It looks to me as though Sunak has done precisely that, and delivered an outcome for the United Kingdom that any of his predecessors would have been delighted to accept.