UK PM Rishi Sunak tours Northern Ireland to sell his new Brexit deal

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London: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Tuesday said he is “over the moon” with the Brexit agreement inked with the European Union (EU) aimed at resolving long-standing trade issues in the region.

Sunak is currently touring Northern Ireland to sell the new “Windsor Framework” agreed between the UK and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Windsor on Monday, which replaces the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol which caused trade disputes and severely strained UK-EU relations.

Sunak later made a statement in the House of Commons to declare that the new deal delivers “free-flowing trade” for UK territory Northern Ireland with the rest of Britain by “removing any sense of the border in the Irish Sea” and creates a red lane system to resolve issues with bordering EU member-state Ireland.

“I’m really pleased in fact, I’m over the moon that yesterday we managed to have a decisive breakthrough with our negotiations with the EU,” Sunak told local business representatives gathered at the Coca-Cola factory in County Antrim in Northern Ireland as he took questions from them on the framework.

“It’s about stability in Northern Ireland. It’s about real people and real businesses. It’s about showing that our Union, which has lasted for centuries, can and will endure. And it’s about breaking down the barriers between us,” he said.

Sunak insisted that the new framework puts the people of Northern Ireland in charge with active democratic consent by adding a new “Stormont Brake”.

This indicates that the devolved Parliament at Stormont in Belfast, backed by the UK, can veto new EU goods laws not supported by all communities in Northern Ireland.

The agreement concluded months of intensive discussions between the UK and EU to address problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol, agreed by former British prime minister Boris Johnson, who was conspicuously absent from the Commons session on Monday, as the Opposition repeatedly criticised his handling of the issue.

In a swipe at Sunak’s former boss, Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer said, “The Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip [Boris Johnson] told the people of Northern Ireland that his protocol meant ‘no forms, no checks, no barriers of any kind’ on goods crossing the Irish Sea after Brexit.”

“That was nonsense. A point-blank refusal to engage with unionists in Northern Ireland in good faith, never mind taking their concerns seriously. And it inevitably contributed to the collapse of power-sharing in Northern Ireland,” Starmer said.

He urged Sunak to be “utterly unlike his predecessor” and not pretend the deal is something it is not.

Overall, Sunak’s statement in parliament was greeted with praise from his Conservative Party MPs and many in the opposition. The reaction of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which had withdrawn from the Northern Irish devolved government process over the Protocol, now remains crucial to the new Windsor Framework working in the long term. While the regional party said it is studying the deal’s fine print before giving its verdict, Sunak’s tour of the region is intended to build consensus on all sides.

“Parties will want to consider the agreement in detail, a process that will need time and care. And there are, of course, many voices and perspectives within Northern Ireland, and it is the job of the government to respect them all,” Sunak said in Parliament.

“As a Conservative, a Brexiteer, and a Unionist, I believe passionately with my head and my heart that it is the right way forward, right for Northern Ireland, and right for our United Kingdom,” he said.

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( With inputs from www.siasat.com )

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