Foreign Secretary denies government is politicising the King after criticism over meeting with EU boss

28 February 2023, 08:58 | Updated: 28 February 2023, 09:37

King's involvement of the NI protocol was 'not unusual', Foreign Secretary insists

EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has denied ministers were politicising the monarchy following the King's meeting with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

Speaking to Nick Ferrari at Breakfast on LBC Mr Cleverly said: "I genuinely don't understand that argument. The other week President Zelensky came to the UK and, as a senior international guest, he had an audience with His Majesty the King.

"Ursula von der Leyen is a very senior international representative. It is therefore not unusual as part of our hospitality to international guests to facilitate a meeting.

"It was our invitation for Ursula von der Leyen to come to the UK to finalise this deal with the Prime Minister. Of course that was a conversation we had with the Palace.

"The final decision on the availability of His Majesty is with the Palace."

Read more: 'We've now taken back control': Sunak hails Brexit deal as Tory hardliners and DUP size up agreement

Read more: Brexit deal: Northern Ireland Protocol explained

Leader of Reform UK brands the new Brexit deal an 'absolute tragedy'

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak travelled to Northern Ireland, after securing a deal with the EU that he promised would be a "turning point" for the region after years of post-Brexit tensions.

The new deal, dubbed the Windsor Framework, removes barriers on trade across the Irish Sea and hands a "veto" to politicians in Stormont on EU law - a set of concessions from Brussels that went further than some expected.

But it still includes a role for the European Court of Justice, with the Democratic Unionist Party and Tory backbenchers now set to study closely the details of the complex set of arrangements in the coming days.

The Prime Minister, who is also expected to speak to backbench MPs later today, spoke at length in the Commons on the deal as he sought to see off any threat of rebellion from within his own ranks.

Irish Business Minister tells Ben Kentish he hopes the UK and EU can restore a 'mature relationship'

MPs are expected to get a vote on the deal, but Downing Street has not so far said when or how such a vote might take place.

A key part of the deal is an emergency "Stormont brake" on changes to EU goods rules that can be pulled by the Northern Ireland Assembly, with No 10 hopeful that it will ensure concerns over a "democratic deficit" are addressed.

The Prime Minister called it a "very powerful mechanism" for Stormont to use when it has concerns over EU law, as he heralded the overall deal as a "decisive breakthrough".

"Together we have changed the original protocol and are today announcing the new Windsor Framework," he said.

"Today's agreement delivers smooth-flowing trade within the whole United Kingdom, protects Northern Ireland's place in our union and safeguards sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland."

Leaders in the EU and beyond hailed the progress too, with Ms von der Leyen praising the "new chapter in our partnership" while French President Emmanuel Macron spoke of the "important decision".

US President Joe Biden said it was an "essential step" in protecting the Good Friday Agreement, while in Dublin Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the EU had moved "a lot" to facilitate a deal.

Former prime minister Boris Johnson, who until only recently had been urging Mr Sunak to see the benefits of the newly-jettisoned Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, remained silent on Monday.

A source close to the former prime minister said that he is continuing to study and reflect on the Government's proposals.

But elsewhere within the Conservative ranks there was enthusiastic backing for the Prime Minister, with many senior Tories praising the deal.

Northern Ireland minister and former Brexit rebel Steve Baker was one of the most ardent backers of the prime minister's deal, comparing the level of "statecraft" involved in the negotiations to that leading up to the Good Friday Agreement.

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