Rishi Sunak to meet Stormont leaders over Northern Ireland Protocol

Rishi Sunak to meet Stormont leaders over Northern Ireland Protocol thumbnail

Mr Sunak and Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris will meet the politicians near Belfast amid growing speculation over a deal within days on the post-Brexit trading arrangement.

Newspaper reports have suggested the Prime Minister could brief his Cabinet on the deal and announce it in Parliament on Tuesday.

In another apparent sign of progress, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly will travel to Brussels for a meeting with European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic.

However, Irish premier Micheal Martin said he believes there is a “distance to go yet” before a deal between the UK and the EU is over the line.

The UK and the EU have been embroiled in substantive negotiations over the workings of the protocol, agreed to ensure the free movement of goods across the Irish land border after Brexit.

The protocol has proven to be deeply unpopular with unionists and the DUP has collapsed the powersharing institutions at Stormont in protest at the arrangements.

A number 10 spokeswoman confirmed the Prime Minister will meet Northern Ireland parties as part of the “engagement process”.

She added: “Whilst talks with the EU are ongoing, ministers continue to engage with relevant stakeholders to ensure any solution fixes the practical problems on the ground, meets our overarching objectives, and safeguards Northern Ireland’s place in the UK’s internal market.”

The Foreign Office also confirmed Mr Cleverly’s Brussels meeting with Mr Sefcovic, saying it was part of “ongoing engagement and constructive dialogue with the EU to find practical solutions that work for the people of Northern Ireland”.

Mr Martin said he believed the UK Government wanted a consultation with the Northern Ireland parties on the negotiations.

He told RTE: “I think there is a distance to go yet. I don’t understate the challenges, but clearly the negotiations have been serious and substantive and trust has built up between the EU team and the UK team, but I think there is some time to go yet.”

However, senior figures within the DUP and the European Research Group of the Tory party have warned that any deal must remove the oversight of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Northern Ireland as well as dealing with trading difficulties.

While it is understood the EU and the UK are close to signing off a deal that would reduce protocol red tape on the movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, there is no expectation that Brussels is willing to agree to end the application of EU law in the region.

The EU says a fundamental plank of the protocol – namely that Northern Ireland traders can sell freely into the European single market – is dependent on the operation of EU rules in the region.

Deputy chairman of the ERG David Jones tweeted on Thursday: “The Protocol won’t be fixed by displaying green and red signs and pretending the ECJ hasn’t got supreme jurisdiction in Northern Ireland when it manifestly has.

“NI must cease to be subject to laws made in Brussels. It’s as simple as that. Anything less won’t work.”