Post-Brexit deal on Northern Ireland ‘by no means done’, Rishi Sunak says

Political Correspondent Harry Horton analyses Rishi Sunak's comments

Rishi Sunak has said a deal with the European Union on fixing issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol is “by no means done”.

The prime minister appeared to play down the prospect of an imminent agreement, amid speculation one could be announced early next week.

Mr Sunak met European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen behind closed doors on the fringes of the Munich Security Conference on Saturday as he seeks to secure a deal aimed at breaking the impasse over the contentious post-Brexit trading arrangements.

But in his speech to the forum, he suggested there is still a way to go.

“We’re engaging in those conversations with the European Union all the time and we have been for a while, but what I’d say is there is still work to do,” the Prime Minister said.

“There are still challenges to work through. We have not resolved all these issues.

“No, there isn’t a deal that has been done, there is an understanding of what needs to be done.”

Mr Sunak added that “we’re working through (the issues) hard and we will work through them intensely with the EU, but we are by no means done.”

Rishi Sunak, Sinn Fein party leader Mary Lou McDonald, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris and Sinn Fein deputy Michelle O’Neill Credit: Twitter/Michelle O’Neill

His trip to the German summit came a day after his meetings with the five main Stormont parties in Belfast to gain their support.

However, he was warned by the DUP, the most vocal critics of the protocol, that his proposed deal did not go far enough.

In a weekend message to the unionist party’s members, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: “Progress has been made in some areas and while that is welcome, in other key areas it currently falls short of what would be acceptable and required to meet our seven tests.

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“I have indicated to the Prime Minister that it is important he agrees the right deal rather than a rushed deal.

“Solutions must be found which respect Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom and its internal market and deal with the democratic deficit created by the protocol.”

The term “democratic deficit” is used by Northern Ireland unionists to describe the application of EU rules in the region without local politicians having an influence on them.

Mr Sunak may push EU leaders for further concessions on the oversight role of the European Court of Justice, but the European Commission is unlikely to budge on its red line – that the court has the final say on single market issues.

Any compromise over the court’s jurisdiction will also anger eurosceptic Tory backbenchers in the European Research Group (ERG), who could rebel if the changes are put to a vote in the Commons.

The UK and the EU have been engaged in substantive negotiations over the workings of the Protocol, which was included in the Withdrawal Agreement to ensure the free movement of goods across the Irish land border after Brexit.

The Protocol instead created economic barriers on trade being shipped from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

It has proved to be deeply unpopular with unionists, who claim it has weakened Northern Ireland’s place within the UK, and the DUP has used a Stormont veto to collapse the powersharing institutions in protest at the arrangements.

Mr Sunak met German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the Munich summit, though No 10’s readout of the talks suggested the Northern Ireland Protocol did not come up.

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