Rishi Sunak will 'agree new Brexit deal this weekend' after getting fresh concessions from Brussels

24 February 2023, 23:23

Rishi Sunak is set to get a Northern Ireland deal this weekend, according to reports
Rishi Sunak is set to get a Northern Ireland deal this weekend, according to reports. Picture: Getty

By Kit Heren

Rishi Sunak is set to agree a new deal on the Northern Ireland protocol this weekend after gaining new concessions from the European Union

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Downing Street said that the Prime Minister had made several "positive breakthroughs" in talks with Brussels, according to the Telegraph.

Both parties have been engaged in intense talks over the past few weeks to relieve business tensions in Northern Ireland since the Brexit deal was agreed in 2020.

Mr Sunak reportedly spoke with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, with more talks to come this weekend.

A deal could be signed as early as Sunday and presented to Parliament on Monday. Tory MPs were ordered into Parliament on a three-line whip on Monday, while Cabinet ministers were reportedly on alert for a possible conference call over the weekend.

Rishi Sunak promises to be ‘resolute’ in negotiations over Brexit protocol

The protocol, signed by former prime minister Boris Johnson in 2020, was designed to prevent a hard border with Ireland after Brexit by effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the European Union's single market.

But the treaty has incensed unionists due to the trade barriers it has created between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Any announcement of a deal is expected to set up a possible clash with Conservative Brexit hardliners. Mr Sunak has promised that the House of Commons will be able to "express its view" over any deal, which he hopes will get the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to restore powersharing in Northern Ireland.

But he would come under intense pressure if he does not give MPs an explicit vote, amid fears there could be a rebellion.

William Hague explains why Sunak's NI protocol deal is so important

The Prime Minister, since entering No 10 in October, has backed away from reforms on contentious issues such as planning rules when confronted with a potential backbench revolt.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly indicated that ministers will not sign off a deal over the protocol until the DUP's concerns are addressed.

The DUP has issued seven tests to win its backing for any deal, including addressing what it calls the "democratic deficit" of Northern Ireland being subject to EU rules while not having a say on them.

The Northern Ireland protocol has been controversial since the Brexit deal was signed
The Northern Ireland protocol has been controversial since the Brexit deal was signed. Picture: Getty

Ms Von der Leyen was also scheduled to meet the King at Windsor Castle while in the UK on Saturday, according to Sky News.

The broadcaster's report said the meeting could have been interpreted as Charles "endorsing the deal" with the EU.

UK Government sources said Ms von der Leyen was no longer expected to travel to Britain.

But they stressed it would not have been improper for the King, as head of state, to have met a visiting European leader.

"It would be wrong to suggest the King would be involved in anything remotely political," a government source told the PA news agency.