Sunak poised to unveil new Brexit deal as Downing Street heralds ‘far-reaching concessions’ from EU

26 February 2023, 23:14 | Updated: 27 February 2023, 08:35

Rishi Sunak is pictured leaving No 10 on Friday
Rishi Sunak is pictured leaving No 10 on Friday. Picture: Alamy

By Adam Solomons

The prime minister is set to reveal the terms of his new Brexit deal after securing what Downing Street called crucial 'concessions' on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

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Rishi Sunak will host European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen for talks at Number Ten at lunchtime before a Cabinet meeting in the early afternoon.

Downing Street claimed the prime minister is seeking "a negotiated solution in the best interest of the people of Northern Ireland".

Once the deal has been signed by Britain and the EU, Sunak and von der Leyen will hold a joint press conference on Monday afternoon.

Sunak will then address the House of Commons on the terms of the agreement.

It comes after months of negotiations on the Northern Ireland Protocol, the most contentious element of the current withdrawal agreement which outlines the terms of Britain's exit from the EU.

Read more: Sunak will meet EU chief tomorrow as Raab says UK and Brussels 'on the cusp' of new Brexit deal

Read more: Deputy PM Dominic Raab says he'll resign if probe upholds bullying allegation against him

Ursula von der Leyen will arrive in Britain on Monday morning
Ursula von der Leyen will arrive in Britain on Monday morning. Picture: Alamy

Changes to the clause are intended to smooth out the movement of goods between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland.

Currently chilled meat products including sausages cannot move across the Irish Sea to Northern Ireland under rules in the Customs Union, of which Belfast is still a part.

But Northern Ireland has no say over the terms of the Customs Union, enabling a so-called democratic deficit.

The new agreement features “significant and far reaching” changes to the withdrawal agreement not previously considered by Brussels, a Downing Street source told The Times.

The EU has reportedly agreed to scrap checks on most goods sent from Britain to Northern Ireland, as well as a promise to not apply more than 90 per cent of single market rules on products made in Northern Ireland.

The Union flag and an EU flag wave in Westminster
The Union flag and an EU flag wave in Westminster. Picture: Alamy

The European Court of Justice will continue to oversee how single market rules apply in Northern Ireland - a key concern for Tory backbenchers - but the EU has reportedly allowed new safeguards to ensure cases cannot be directly referred to it by Brussels, the newspaper reported.

One former cabinet minister told The Times: “It is probably not perfect and they don’t tell you its weaknesses. But frankly it sounds like something that Boris would have grabbed with both hands if he’d been offered it.”

Deputy PM Dominic Raab yesterday said the two parties were "on the cusp" of a deal, while Irish PM Leo Varadkar said tweaks to the Northern Ireland Protocol were "inching towards a conclusion".

Raab also made indications as to what the new deal could contain, including a so-called "green lane" for GB goods passing into Northern Ireland with lighter checks to ease friction on trade.

Officials check freight at the Port of Larne in County Antrim, Northern Ireland on January 1, 2021
Officials check freight at the Port of Larne in County Antrim, Northern Ireland on January 1, 2021. Picture: Getty

In a message apparently directly at the Democratic Unionist Party and Tory Eurosceptics who want to see an end to the European Court of Justice oversight of disputes over Northern Ireland, Mr Raab argued: “If we can scale back some of the regulatory checks that apply and some of the paperwork that applies, that would in itself involve a significant, a substantial, scaling back for the role of ECJ."

He also suggested that a mechanism to tackle the "democratic deficit" in the protocol had been negotiated, giving the Northern Ireland Assembly a say over any new European Union rules that would affect Northern Ireland, which the DUP sees as a key condition for supporting the change.

The party has set seven tests that Mr Sunak's pact will have to meet to win its support.

Labour's Jon Trickett says the Tories have made a 'complete mess' of Brexit and the NI protocol

This includes addressing what the party calls the "democratic deficit" of NI being subject to European Union rules but not having a say on them.

Mr Sunak vowed that in terms of Unionist concerns, "anything that we do will tick all of those boxes".

Labour has said it will support Sunak's tweaks to the Protocol.

Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy told Sky News over the weekend: “If he does get a deal then credit to him, because this is hugely important for the national interests of our country and for the people of Northern Ireland.”

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