- By Andre Rhoden-Paul
- BBC news
The UK is “on the cusp” of a new Brexit deal on Northern Ireland, the deputy prime minister said.
Dominic Raab told the BBC the government has made “great progress” in negotiations with the European Union.
The UK wants to amend the Northern Ireland Protocol, an agreement with the EU that controls certain goods entering from the rest of the UK.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was giving negotiations “everything” in an attempt to strike a deal.
Speaking on BBC Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, Mr Raab said: “We’re on the verge, we’ve made great progress, we’re not there yet, but it would be a very important deal…
“I think it would be a paradigm shift for the communities of Northern Ireland first and foremost, but I think it would be a major achievement.”
The Democratic Unionist Party (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.
Mr Raab said the EU has “moved” on some issues, saying: “If there are any new rules that would apply in relation to Northern Ireland, it must be right that there should be a Northern Ireland democratic control.”
Signed by Boris Johnson in 2020, the protocol means that Northern Ireland will continue to follow some EU laws to allow goods to flow freely across the border into the Republic of Ireland without any controls.
The DUP believes the protocol undermines the country’s position in the rest of the UK and negatively impacts trade flow.
The party prevented a devolved government from being formed in Northern Ireland, leaving it in a political stalemate.
Mr Raab said the UK wants to waive controls on any shipment of goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. The EU is concerned about goods threatening the internal market by moving between Northern Ireland and the EU.
For goods he suggested an “intelligence based” rather than a “tick box” approach – “which basically means they look at what happens in the Republic with goods going to Northern Ireland in case there is a risk exists that they will go to the wider single market – and if we can achieve that, it will be a huge victory.”
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.
Rishi Sunak said on Saturday that his government was “giving everything we have” to strike a deal to resolve issues with the protocol.
But he has been warned by eurosceptic Conservative MPs not to rush into calling a parliamentary vote on the new deal.
Asked whether MPs would be allowed to vote on a new deal, Mr Raab said: “Parliament will have its ability to express itself.”
Mark Francois, head of the European Research Group of eurosceptic Tory MPs, warned Sunak that it would be “incredibly unwise” to secure a new deal without giving MPs a vote.
He told Sky News: “Don’t try to bounce Parliament next week because it will probably go very wrong.
“So, if they have a deal they’re proud of, show us the text. Let’s get it checked by our lawyers. Let’s fully understand what it means. Then we might be ready to vote at that point.” It.”
He added that EU law had to be “deleted” from Northern Ireland to bring it into line with England, Scotland and Wales.
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 Westminster Hour: “Their involvement would be small… occasional involvement from the European Court of Justice really shouldn’t prevent an agreement from being reached.
“They talk about democracy. Democracy is then thrown away [Northern Ireland] Assembly is not. We need them back.”
Speaking to Laura Kuenssberg on Sunday, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said his party would vote for a new deal in the national interest of the UK and the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
“Our judgment is that any deal that comes out will be better than what we have now,” he said.
On Saturday, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar also said the deal was “on the way to a conclusion”, and urged the EU and the UK to “go a step further” to close the deal.