LONDON: Britain is on the cusp of a deal with the European Union to try to ease trade and political disruption in Northern Ireland caused by Brexit, but it is unclear whether it will be enough to satisfy eurosceptic critics.
More than a year of stop-start and sometimes rancorous negotiations between London and Brussels on an overhaul of part of the 2020 EU exit deal look to be coming to a conclusion with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak saying he was “giving it everything” to get a deal done.
“We’re on the cusp, we’ve made great progress, we’re not there yet,” Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told the BBC.
The BBC later reported, citing unnamed sources, that a headline announcement could come on Sunday with details to follow on Monday. Sunak’s office did not confirm those reports.
Sunak is looking to succeed in talks where his predecessors Boris Johnson and Liz Truss failed, but the push comes at the risk of swamping his domestic priorities as he looks to overturn a large opinion poll deficit for his Conservative Party before a national election expected next year.
Even if agreed with Brussels, the announcement of a deal is likely to be only the start.
Key players in Northern Ireland have set a high bar for the kind of deal they would support and Sunak’s own Conservatives are still riddled with the divisions over Brexit that have at times paralysed British politics since the country’s 2016 vote to leave the EU.
As part of its exit agreement, Britain signed an accord with Brussels known as the Northern Ireland protocol to avoid imposing politically contentious checks along the 500-kilometre (310-mile) land border with EU member Ireland.
But the protocol effectively created a border for some goods moving from Britain because it kept Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods.
That has also disrupted the delicate political balance in Northern Ireland, preventing the formation of a power-sharing government set out by a 1998 peace agreement that mostly ended three decades of sectarian violence in the province.
In an interview with the Sunday Times, Sunak said the shooting of a police officer in Northern Ireland last week was a reminder of the fragility of the situation there.