The Daily Telegraph
Sunak: My deal is a new way forward
PM hails framework that delivers ‘decisive breakthrough’ on trade in Northern Ireland
RISHI SUNAK last night heralded a “new way forward” for Northern Ireland as he appeared close to securing a political coup with his Brexit deal.
Unveiling the Windsor Framework, the Prime Minister said that he and the EU had made a “decisive breakthrough” on the rules governing trade in the province.
Speaking at a joint press conference with Mr Sunak, Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said that she hoped the deal would open a “new chapter in our partnership” with a “stronger EU-UK relationship”.
She announced that Brussels would immediately start the ball rolling on the UK joining the EU’S Horizon scientific research programme.
Mr Sunak praised Mrs von der Leyen’s “vision in recognising the possibility of a new way forward”.
An expected backlash from Tory Eurosceptics failed to materialise, with Brexiteer Steve Baker hailing “he’s done it”. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), whose support for the deal is crucial, said that “significant progress” had been made.
It said it would spend the next few days discussing the framework with legal advisers before deciding whether to support it in a parliamentary vote, expected to be held next month.
After days of briefing from his allies that he was unhappy with Mr Sunak’s agreement, Boris Johnson did not appear in the Commons to comment on the deal, and did not issue any statement.
A source close to Mr Johnson said that he “continues to study and reflect on the Government’s proposals” – and would not comment on reports that he had spoken to the DUP to urge them to be wary of accepting the deal. Liz Truss, who had also raised concerns in recent days, similarly chose not to intervene.
Joe Biden, the US president, said the agreement was “an essential step to ensuring that the hard-earned peace and progress of the Good Friday Agreement is preserved and strengthened”.
The support of the US, a signatory to the Good Friday Agreement, has been seen as key, especially ahead of the 25th anniversary of the accord and an expected visit by Mr Biden.
The framework was secured after Mrs von der Leyen flew into London yesterday and held a meeting with Mr Sunak in Windsor, lasting under two hours. The pair held a joint press conference, before the EU chief had tea with the King at Windsor Castle and Mr Sunak returned to London to present his deal to MPS.
It comes after two years of confusion and disagreement between the UK and the EU over how to solve a situation where Northern Ireland was subject to European laws and part of the single market. Mr Sunak told MPS that his deal “puts beyond all doubt that we have now taken back control”.
He said his deal removed “any sense of a border in the Irish Sea” and pledged a smoother and less bureaucratic flow of goods from the rest of the UK into Northern Ireland – using a system of green lanes and red lanes.
He also promised the enhanced availability of British products in Northern Ireland – including medicines.
Mr Sunak said that the “landmark settlement” meant drugs approved by the UK regulator would be made available in Northern Ireland.
He said: “As a Conservative, a Brexiteer and a Unionist, I believe passionately with my head and my heart that this is the right way forward – right for Northern Ireland, right for our United Kingdom,” he said.
“We’ve achieved free-flowing trade with a green lane for goods, no burdensome customs bureaucracy, no routine checks on trade, no paperwork whatsoever for Northern Irish goods moving into Great Britain and no border in the Irish Sea.
“We’ve protected Northern Ireland’s place in the Union with state aid reachback fixed, the same tax rules applying everywhere, vet certificates for food lorries gone, the ban on British sausages gone, parcel paperwork gone, pet paperwork gone, garden centres now selling the same trees, supermarkets selling the same food, and pharmacies selling the same medicines.
“And we’ve safeguarded sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland, with the democratic deficit closed, the Vienna Convention confirmed, thousands of pages of EU law scrapped and with the Stormont brake we have safeguarded democracy and sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland.
“So that is the choice before us. Let us seize the opportunity of this moment, the certainty of an agreement that fixes the problems we faced.”
Mr Sunak said that the new “Stormont brake” amounted to a veto, and would allow the NI Assembly to stop EU goods laws applying in the province.
Mrs von der Leyen stressed this was an emergency mechanism, and said the European Court of Justice would continue to have the final say on single market issues. Standing beside the Prime Minister, she warmly referred to him as “dear Rishi”.
At the press conference, Mr Sunak confirmed that the Commons would be given a vote on the framework after coming under pressure to give MPS a say, but declined to say when.
He said Parliament would “have a vote at the appropriate time” and that “that vote will be respected”.
Mr Sunak confirmed that he was scrapping Mr Johnson’s Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which would have given Westminster the power to unilaterally overrule the agreement and unveiled legal advice showing it would not have worked.
Last night there were signs Mr Sunak’s deal was gathering the support of significant Eurosceptics.
David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, said Mr Sunak had “played a blinder”, adding: “This is a remarkable success, he has done much better than his predecessors.”
Steve Baker, the former chairman of the European Research Group (ERG) and now a Northern Ireland minister, urged the DUP to row in behind it. Speaking on Newsnight, he said: “This is an important moment for me because I can say authentically ‘he’s done it’.”
In an article for The Daily Telegraph, he also wrote: “The Windsor Framework is a real turning point. It preserves the balance of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and it brings to an end years of arguments about our exit from the European Union.
“We must take what is a huge win and move on as partners with our European friends and neighbours, working together on issues from defence and security to climate change.
“We must focus on the opportunities that await us, to the benefit of people and businesses across the United Kingdom. It is time to put the disagreements behind us and look to the future with confidence.”
A read-out from the Cabinet meeting Mr Sunak held after the press conference specifically mentioned that Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, a leading Brexiteer, backed his agreement.
Lee Anderson, the Deputy Chairman of the Tory Party, said he thought Mr Sunak “had nailed it... I wasn’t expecting the deal we’ve got. This is more than any other prime minister’s got before, so fair play to Rishi. I was very impressed. It looks like we’re going to get this sorted once and for all.”
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the leader of the DUP, said that his party would “study the detail” in the coming weeks – but did not dismiss it out of hand.
“In broad terms it is clear that significant progress has been secured across a number of areas whilst also recognising there remain key issues of concern,” he said. “There can be no disguising the fact that in some sectors of our economy EU law remains applicable in Northern Ireland.”
Ian Paisley Jr, a DUP MP, did come out against the framework. He said: “My gut instinct is this isn’t going to cut the mustard.”