Brexit deal hailed as ‘turning point’ for Northern Ireland, but could still face opposition in Belfast


WINDSOR, UK, 27 February 2023: UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (L) and European Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen announced a groundbreaking post-Brexit trade deal to remedy the Northern Ireland Protocol issues.

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LONDON — The new Brexit deal signed by the UK and the European Union on Monday was heralded as a “watershed moment” for Northern Ireland, but has yet to pass in Belfast.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak received a boost on Monday, when Opposition Leader Keir Starmer confirmed his Labor party would vote in favor of the deal – known as the Windsor Framework – which should address a plethora of problems caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol. .

This all but secures passage through the British Parliament at Westminster, despite an expected opposition from hard-line Brexiteers within Sunak’s own Conservative Party.

The sticking point could come from across the Irish Sea in Stormont, near Belfast, where the Northern Ireland Assembly deputy has been suspended for a year after the pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) resigned in protest at the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The DUP argued that the controls on goods traveling between Britain – England, Scotland and Wales – had effectively placed a border in the Irish Sea, banishing Belfast from the rest of the UK and stripping it of its autonomy due to its compliance with EU legal systems.

The problems stemmed from the fact that Northern Ireland, which is in the UK and thus no longer in the EU, shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland, which remains in the European alliance.

The previous deal, negotiated and signed by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was also criticized for jeopardizing the Good Friday Agreement – ​​a landmark peace deal that ended three decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

In a statement on Monday, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said his party’s opposition to the previous settlement was “justified” and thanked Sunak and his predecessors for their work at the negotiating table.

“Broadly speaking, it is clear that significant progress has been made in a number of areas, while also recognizing that significant areas of concern remain,” said Donaldson.

“It cannot be disguised that in some sectors of our economy EU law will continue to apply in Northern Ireland.”

He said the DUP will have to study the details of the Windsor Framework against the party’s “seven tests” to determine whether it “respects and restores Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom”.

The seven trials

The first of these “seven tests” requires an agreement honoring the sixth article of the 200-year-old Act of the Union, which stipulates that all British citizens “should be entitled to the same privileges and be on the same footing” – a principle which, according to the DUP, was clearly not the case in Johnson’s deal.

The party also demanded that Northern Irish consumers and businesses should not be forced to buy certain goods from the EU and not Britain.

BELFAST, UK, February 17, 2023: DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson speaks to reporters outside the Culloden Hotel in Belfast after Northern Ireland leaders held talks with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Liam McBurney/PA Images via Getty Images

It also pushed for the abolition of a theoretical trade border that would mandate additional controls on goods traveling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in case they enter the Republic of Ireland. All controls must be removed to restore Northern Ireland’s position in the UK market, the DUP said.

The fourth condition was that Northern Ireland had control over rules allowing goods to move back and forth across the southern border into the Republic, and that no new regulatory barriers would arise between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, unless agreed in Stormont. .

The seventh demand was to preserve the “letter and spirit” of Northern Ireland’s position in the UK as set out in the Good Friday Agreement. This requires the consent of the majority of the population of Northern Ireland for any reduction of the country’s status as an equal part of the UK

The Windsor Framework removes controls on goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland that remain in the UK, and also allows the same tax and excise changes to be applied in Northern Ireland as in the rest of the UK

It also introduces a new mechanism called the “Stormont brake” which gives the Northern Ireland Assembly a say on whether changes to EU goods rules affecting Northern Ireland should apply. Pulling this brake would give the British government a veto over the adoption of a new EU rule.

“The Windsor Framework provides practical solutions to many of the obstacles to the free movement of goods under the Northern Ireland Protocol,” said Gaurav Ganguly, senior director of economic research at Moody’s Analytics.

“The deal signals an improvement in EU-UK relations, but it may not be enough to satisfy Unionists in Stormont. Despite the deal, the risk of a political deadlock in Northern Ireland remains.”

There are already rumors of discontent within the DUP ranks. DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr., son of the party’s founder, told the BBC on Monday his instinct was that the new deal “doesn’t cut it”.

Should the DUP reject the deal, Sunak may have to return to the negotiating table, reigniting the uncertainty that has plagued the UK political and investment landscape for nearly seven years.

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