Rishi Sunak must stand up to Tories 'Brexit purity cult' to strike NI Protocol deal, Keir Starmer says

13 January 2023, 11:28

Keir Starmer (l) calls for Rishi Sunak (top r) to stand up to Tory Eurosceptics in EU negotiations
Keir Starmer (l) calls for Rishi Sunak (top r) to stand up to Tory Eurosceptics in EU negotiations. Picture: Alamy

By Stephen Rigley

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has urged Rishi Sunak to put Northern Ireland "above a Brexit purity cult" within the Conservative Party.

In a speech in Belfast he has told tell the PM to break a deadlock with the EU over the NI Protocol He offered to help get a protocol deal through parliament if it fails to win enough support from Tory MPs.

Sir Keir is on a two-day visit to NI. On Thursday he held 'constructive' talks about the protocol with Northern Irish political parties.

Protests by the Democratic Unionist Party against the protocol led to the collapse of Northern Ireland's power-sharing executive last February.

Keir Starmer speaking in Belfast
Keir Starmer speaking in Belfast. Picture: Alamy

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Sir Keir urged Mr Sunak to use this year's 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement to "fix minds" on securing a deal with the EU over the protocol.

In his speech at Queen's University Belfast on Friday, he said the "time for action on the protocol is now" and urged the prime minister to stand up to hardline Eurosceptics within the Conservative Party.

"The time to put Northern Ireland above a Brexit purity cult, which can never be satisfied, is now," he said.

"There is a small window of opportunity before April - we've got to use the anniversary to fix minds, get the country and its political process moving forward again - deliver for the people of Northern Ireland.

"Whatever political cover you need, whatever mechanism in Westminster you require, if it delivers for our national interest and the people of Northern Ireland we will support you."

Talks are taking place between the UK and the EU to find a resolution on the protocol.

The UK government has argued the protocol is not working and plans to override most of the agreement if the EU does not agree to changes.

Yesterday London Mayor Sadiq Khan condemned the "damage" caused by Brexit and called for a "debate" about rejoining the single market.