European Commission president to visit UK, as Northern Ireland Protocol deal could be made in 'days'

Political Correspondent Harry Horton says a Northern Ireland deal is 'very likely' to be made tomorrow as it is confirmed that President von der Leyen will visit the UK

President von der Leyen is to visit the UK on Monday, as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pushes to get a deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol over the line.

It comes after Rishi Sunak said he and his government are "giving it everything we've got" as they try to get a deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol over the line.

A joint statement from Mr Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von de Leyen said: "Today, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Rishi Sunak agreed to continue their work in person towards shared, practical solutions for the range of complex challenges around the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland.

“President von der Leyen will therefore meet with the Prime Minister in the UK tomorrow.”

Rishi Sunak said he wants to secure a deal that improves trade flows between Northern Ireland and Great Britain Credit: Niall Carson/PA

ITV News understands the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has not been briefed about any new Northern Ireland protocol.

Sunday morning, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab suggested an agreement on the protocol could be delivered within “days, not weeks”.

Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme, Mr Raab said: “We’ve clearly made some progress in recent weeks and days, and it is really important to get this fixed.”

Asked whether a deal could be unveiled on Monday, the Cabinet minister replied: “I think there is real progress.

“We want to make sure all the pieces are in place.

“But I think, hopefully, there will be good news in a matter of days, not weeks.”

No 10 said "good progress" was made during a call between the prime minister and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, with a breakthrough seeming very close.

After “positive” discussions, Ms von der Leyen was expected to arrive in Britain on Saturday for more talks on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

But UK government sources confirmed she was no longer scheduled to make the journey to Britain over what it said were operational reasons.

ITV News understands she was scheduled to meet the King at Windsor Castle on Saturday for afternoon tea before the trip was cancelled.

It is understood the meeting could have been interpreted as Charles “endorsing the deal” that the prime minister is attempting to negotiate with the European Union to solve Brexit-related issues.

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Baroness Hoey, a Northern Irish Brexit supporter and former Labour MP, tweeted: “If true, I cannot believe that even the advisers around Rishi Sunak, who clearly don’t understand Northern Ireland, could have even contemplated this.

“Would be outrageous and I believe King Charles would not have agreed to it.”

There were talks about calling a potential protocol pact the “Windsor Agreement” after a meeting with Charles, ITV News understands.

Former business secretary and senior member of the Tory Eurosceptic European Research Group said: “If there were a plan to bring the King in before there is domestic political agreement, it would border on constitutional impropriety.”

Mark Francois, chairman of the Tory Eurosceptic European Research Group (ERG), and Labour shadow foreign secretary David Lammy, not natural bedfellows, agreed there should be “no rush on any vote in Parliament”.

Labour shadow foreign secretary David Lammy agreed there should be “no rush on any vote in Parliament”. Credit: BBC

Mr Lammy signalled that Labour was prepared to back Mr Sunak’s deal, a safety net No 10 are determined not to have to rely upon.

Instead, the Prime Minister is keen to secure support from both his backbenches and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Speaking to The Sunday Times, Mr Sunak pledged that “anything that we do will tick all of those boxes” in terms of Unionist concerns with the protocol.

The protocol, signed by Mr Johnson in 2020, was designed to prevent a hard border with Ireland after Brexit by effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market.

But the trade barriers created by the treaty has created Unionist tension, with Mr Sunak admitting that it had “unbalanced” the Good Friday Agreement that helped end the Troubles bloodshed in Northern Ireland.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s party has issued seven tests that Mr Sunak’s new pact will have to meet in order to win its backing, including addressing what the DUP calls the “democratic deficit” of Northern Ireland being subject to EU rules while not having a say on them.

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Mr Raab, who is also the Justice Secretary, suggested that UK negotiators had secured concessions on that issue, as well as removing red tape on internal market trade.

“If there are any new rules that would apply in relation to Northern Ireland, it must be right that there is a Northern Irish democratic check on that,” Mr Raab told the BBC.

“Again, that would mark a significant shift in the paradigm of the arrangements.”

The Leave campaigner also appeared to confirm reports about new customs arrangements for goods travelling into Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

Several reports have said there will be red and green lanes for customs, allowing trusted traders to send goods from Great Britain into Northern Ireland without checks, while goods destined for Ireland and the EU’s single market will go through the red lane.

“Those are the kind of things we have been pushing for,” he told Sky.

Mr Francois warned that it was a “practical reality” that if the DUP does not agree with the changes Mr Sunak has secured then “it is simply not going to fly”.

He pointed to Foreign Secretary James Cleverly saying on Friday that ministers were “not going to sign off on the deal” until DUP concerns had been addressed as a sign that the UK Government recognised the authority Sir Jeffrey’s party held on the matter.