LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak struck a new deal with the European Union on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland on Monday and said it would pave the way for a new chapter in London’s relationship with the bloc.
Standing alongside European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at a news conference in Windsor, Sunak said the two sides had agreed to remove “any sense of a border” between Britain and its province - a situation that had angered politicians on both sides.
The agreement marks a high-risk strategy for Sunak just four months after he took office. He is looking to secure improved relations with Brussels - and the United States - without angering the wing of his party most wedded to Brexit.
He immediately won plaudits from business groups who welcomed the easing of trade rules, and a promise from von der Leyen that she would be willing to allow British scientists to join a vast EU research programme if Sunak can get the deal past his party.
The success of the deal is likely to hinge on whether it convinces the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to end its boycott of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing arrangements. These were central to the 1998 peace agreement which mostly ended three decades of sectarian and political violence in Northern Ireland.
“I’m pleased to report that we have now made a decisive breakthrough,” Sunak said, adding they had agreed to change the original deal for Northern Ireland, known as the protocol, to create the “Windsor Framework”.
“This is the beginning of a new chapter in our relationship.”
The issue has been one of the most contentious regarding Britain’s departure from the European Union in 2020. A return to a hard border between the province and Ireland, an EU member, could have could have jeopardised the peace deal known as the Good Friday Agreement.
Sunak is likely to talk up the fact he has secured a so-called “Stormont brake”, which he said would allow Stormont - the regional assembly - to stop any “changes to EU goods rules that would have significant and lasting effects on everyday lives”.