Rishi Sunak is due to hold face-to-face talks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen with an agreement to review Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit arrangements expected on Monday.
“Today, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak have agreed to continue their work face-to-face towards practical and shared solutions to a number of complex challenges surrounding the EU protocol. Ireland and Northern Ireland,” said a statement. said joint statement.
“Therefore, President Von der Leyen will meet the Prime Minister in the UK tomorrow.”
The visit will kick off what could be a pivotal moment for Sunak’s prime minister as he tries to sell the much-negotiated deal – which is expected on Monday – to the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland and the party’s Brexiter MPs. Conservative.
After many weeks of renewed negotiations, expectations rose that the UK and EU were on the verge of unveiling a revised Northern Ireland protocol. Dominic Raab said on Sunday morning that Sunak was “on the verge of an agreement”.
“There is real progress,” the justice secretary and deputy prime minister told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme. “We want to make sure all the pieces are in place. But I think there will be good news in a matter of days, not weeks.”
That timeline appears to have been accelerated further, with Von der Leyen and Sunak waiting to oversee a final list of items needing leader-level scrutiny. While UK government sources say a final resolution is not guaranteed, the meeting means it is widely expected to take place on Monday.
If that happens, looming even more important to Sunak will be how to sell the revised plan to a so far skeptical Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the European Research Group (ERG) of conservative Brexit-minded MPs.
Mark Francois, who chairs the ERG, warned on Sunday of chaos if the prime minister tried to pass an unsatisfactory plan, adding it would be “incredibly reckless” to proceed without a formal vote in the House of Commons, something the government has yet to do. refused to commit.
Francois told the Ridge program that any continued role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) over Northern Ireland, however limited or constrained by oversight, would make the deal unacceptable.
“Just putting in some intermediate stages, with a situation where you still end up with the European court of justice, is effectively a sophistry,” said François. “We are not stupid. What we want is a situation where EU law is removed from Northern Ireland so that it is treated the same as England, Scotland and Wales.”
That wouldn’t be acceptable to the DUP either, he said, adding: “If the DUP doesn’t consent to the deal, it just won’t get off the ground.”
While Raab reiterated Sunak’s refusal to confirm a formal vote on any new deal – “Inevitably, parliament will find a way to speak out,” he replied when asked about it – François insisted it was vital.
“Given the whole history of this, for the government to try to force this into the House of Commons without a vote of any kind would be incredibly reckless,” Francois said.
While declining to go into detail, Raab actually confirmed reports that the vital issue of how to handle goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK would have an “intelligence-based approach” aimed at minimizing checks, with the most items processed via a light touch “green light” system.
“These are the kinds of things we are fighting for,” he said, adding that it would greatly reduce ECJ oversight.
“If we can reduce some of the regulatory checks that apply and some of the paperwork that applies, that in itself would involve a significant and substantial reduction for the ECJ’s role.”
As part of this, any new rules affecting the EU’s single market – to which Northern Ireland is directly linked due to the lack of a trade border with the Republic of Ireland – would require a final say from the devolved assembly in Stormont.