Northern Ireland Protocol: Rishi Sunak meets Ursula von der Leyen for talks

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Rishi Sunak will hold face-to-face talks with the president of the European Commission to finalize a Brexit deal for Northern Ireland.

The Prime Minister and Ursula von der Leyen said they will meet in the UK on Monday to discuss the “complex challenges” of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The UK wants to change the protocol, with some goods being checked on entry from the rest of the UK.

Dominic Raab previously said Britain and the EU are “on the brink” of a deal.

Rishi Sunak and Ms von der Leyen said they “agreed to continue working personally on shared, practical solutions to the range of complex challenges surrounding the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland”.

A deal has been expected for days, with recent talks focused on its presentation and delivery.

Both Tory and Labor MPs have been told by their respective whips to come to parliament on Monday.

The Northern Ireland Protocol was agreed under former Prime Minister Boris Johnson as part of the process of the UK leaving the European Union.

It sees Northern Ireland continuing to follow some EU laws to allow goods to flow freely across the border into the Republic of Ireland without any controls.

Instead, goods arriving from England, Scotland and Wales are checked when they arrive in Northern Irish ports.

Critics, including the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), believe this undermines the country’s position in the rest of the UK and affects trade.

The DUP has complained about what it calls a “democratic deficit” in which Northern Ireland is subject to EU rules but has no say in them.

Deputy Prime Minister Raab previously told the BBC that the government has made “great progress” in its talks with the EU.

He said the EU has “shifted” on a number of issues, saying: “If there are any new rules that would apply in relation to Northern Ireland, it has to be right that there’s Northern Ireland democratic scrutiny over that .”

He said one approach could be an “intelligence based” rather than “tick box” approach to goods “which basically means they look at what happens in the Republic with goods going into Northern Ireland in case there is a risk that they will go into the wider single market – and if we can achieve that, it will be a huge win.”

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Ursula von der Leyen travels to the UK for Monday’s talks

Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar said he had been in contact with Ms von der Leyen on Sunday and was “delighted” at her meeting with Mr Sunak.

He tweeted: “We must acknowledge the level of engagement between the UK government, the European Commission and the NI parties in recent months.”

His deputy, Micheal Martin, said “very significant progress” had been made, adding that “a major effort” had been made to resolve issues.

“I hope it can be brought to a successful conclusion, but that is a matter for the UK and EU negotiating teams,” he said.

The government has not confirmed whether MPs will vote on a deal, but said they could “voice” their views.

Mr Sunak is under pressure from some Conservative MPs over the role of EU law and the European Court of Justice in settling trade disputes.

Mark Francois, head of the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tory MPs, said earlier that EU law from Northern Ireland should be “deleted” to bring it into line with that of England, Scotland and Wales.

He told Sky News on Sunday that he has yet to see details of the deal and that it would be “incredibly unwise” to secure a new deal without giving MPs a vote.

“If they have a deal they’re proud of, show us the text. Have it reviewed by our lawyers. Let’s fully understand what it means. Then we might be ready to vote on it at that point.”

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has previously said: “The aim in London and Brussels should be to get this right rather than rush it. The wrong deal will not restore power-sharing but will increase divisions for future generations.”

But former Prime Minister John Major urged Conservative and DUP MPs not to let concerns about the European Court of Justice get in the way of easing trade and restoring devolved government in Northern Ireland.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour: “Their involvement would be small… incidental involvement of the Court of Justice really shouldn’t prevent a deal from being reached.

“They talk about democracy. Democracy is then thrown away [Northern Ireland] Assembly is not. We need them back.”

What is the Northern Ireland Protocol?

The Northern Ireland Protocol is a trade agreement negotiated during the Brexit negotiations. It allows goods to be transported across the Irish land border without control.

Before Brexit, it was easy to move goods across this border because both sides followed the same EU rules. After the UK left, special trade arrangements were needed because Northern Ireland has a land border with the Republic of Ireland, which is part of the EU.

The EU has strict food rules and requires border controls when certain goods – such as milk and eggs – arrive from non-EU countries.

The land border is a sensitive issue due to Northern Ireland’s troubled political history. It was feared that cameras or border posts – as part of these controls – could lead to instability.

The UK and the EU agreed that protecting the peace deal with Northern Ireland – the Good Friday Agreement – was an absolute priority.

Thus, both sides signed the Northern Ireland Protocol as part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

It is now part of international law.

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