Northern Ireland Brexit deal: EU chief to fly to UK to meet Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak is under pressure to make a deal that the DUP, EU and UK are happy with.

The Prime Minister will hold face-to-face talks with the President of the European Commission as he hopes to seal the Brexit deal in Northern Ireland.

Ursula von der Leyen will travel to the UK on Monday to discuss the “complex range of challenges” surrounding the treaty.

This comes amid speculation that a deal could be announced soon – with Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab saying Britain is “on the verge” of striking the long-awaited deal.

But Sunak faces major hurdles as he has been warned not to try to “lull” backbenchers into supporting a new Brexit deal without the backing of the Democratic Unionist Party.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has laid out seven tests the new pact will have to face to win the party’s support.

That includes addressing what he called the ‘democratic deficit’ of Northern Ireland being subject to EU rules, although he doesn’t have a say in them.

Meanwhile, the British leader is likely to face anger within his party if he does not give Parliament a vote on what he proposes.

A joint statement issued tonight said: ‘Today, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak have agreed to continue their work personally towards practical and shared solutions to a variety of complex challenges around the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland.

File photo dated 7/11/2022 of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak meets with Ursula von der Leyen during the Cop27 summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.  Sunak will hold face-to-face talks in the UK with the President of the European Commission as he seeks to finalize a deal to correct problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol.  Issue date: Sunday, February 26, 2023. PA Photo.  See the story PA POLICY Brexit.  Photo credit should be: Steve Reigate/Daily Express/PA Wire

Ursula von der Leyen travels to the UK on Monday (Photo: PA)

“President von der Leyen will therefore meet the Prime Minister in the UK tomorrow.”

Von der Leyen was due to travel to Britain on Saturday for talks with Sunak, as well as meeting King Charles at Windsor Castle, but those plans have been scrapped.

If Saturday had led to a breakthrough, Downing Street would have been keen to label the Prime Minister’s deal the ‘Windsor Agreement’.

The commission’s online calendar states that von der Leyen’s meeting with Sunak on Monday will take place in Windsor – suggesting that No 10 plans to stick to the original location it had booked for its weekend trip.

Speaking to The Sunday Times on Saturday, Sunak said he planned to work all weekend to agree the revised terms, while looking to keep Brexit Conservatives and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) happy.

He told the paper he was “giving his all” to finalize a fix to the protocol, a Brexit treaty negotiated by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2020.

The protocol was designed to avoid a difficult border crossing with Ireland after Brexit, with Northern Ireland continuing to follow EU rules on goods to avoid the need for checks when crossing into the Republic.

But trade barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain created by the treaty created unionist tension, with Mr. Sunak admitting he had ‘unbalanced’ the Good Friday Agreement that helped end the bloodshed of troubles in the province.

Raab, who is also the justice secretary, appeared to lay out some of what has been agreed so far in the London-Brussels talks during interviews with broadcasters on Sunday.

The Leave activist said it was ‘right for Northern Ireland to have democratic control over’ the new rules the EU makes that apply to Belfast – a hint that Mr. Sunak sought to address the DUP’s concern about the democratic deficit.

He also indicated that reports of red and green lanes to facilitate customs checks in Northern Ireland were correct.

Various reports have suggested trusted merchants will be able to ship goods from Britain to Northern Ireland without checks, while goods destined for Ireland and the EU single market will pass through red inspection bands.

Raab said the cut in trade bureaucracy would lead to a “substantial diminution” of the European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) role, but he declined to rule it out opining on future legal cases.

The ability of European judges to rule on disputes involving EU law in Northern Ireland is a particular nightmare for conservative Eurosceptics.

Mark Francois, chairman of the European Research Group (ERG) made up of anti-EU Conservative MPs, told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday that ‘less paper’ for the Luxembourg court was ‘not enough’ for a concession.

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