Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has urged his lawmakers to avoid causing “another Westminster spectacle” by voting down his revised Brexit agreement. He urged Conservative MPs to allow the DUP “time and space” to consider the deal.
Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trading arrangements are the focus of the agreement with the EU. Reestablishing Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government will require the Democratic Unionist Party’s backing.
Because of dissatisfaction with the status quo in Northern Ireland, the party has been preventing the devolved government from operating by refusing to attend Stormont. Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, leader of the DUP, said the new arrangement addresses his party’s concerns “some way,” but not ultimately.
He assured them that they needed some time to discuss the issue internally. After revealing the breakthrough in Northern Ireland on Monday ( 27 Feb 2023), Mr. Sunak spoke to the key 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers on Tuesday to push his deal.
After the meeting, Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker told reporters that this agreement was “as good as we’re going to get,” implying that further negotiations with the EU will not be pursued. The European Research Group (ERG) of pro-Brexit Conservative MPs heard from Sir Jeffrey at a meeting on Tuesday and afterward hired a “star chamber” of lawyers to investigate the agreement.
ERG legal eagles may take up to two weeks to go over it “with an excellent tooth comb,” according to ERG chairman Mark Francois. He said the prime minister was also right to give the DUP more time. However, David Frost, a former minister in charge of Brexit negotiations, has come to his conclusions about Mr. Sunak’s proposal.
Mr. Frost said in a Telegraph piece that despite the positive effects, “it remains a tough pill to swallow” regarding Mr. Sunak’s bargain.
Mr. Frost has stated that the new provisions have been “oversold” and do not alter the basics of the Northern Ireland Protocol, signed by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson and entered into force in 2021. Mr. Sunak’s new deal stipulates:
- There will be a new “green lane” for British products bound for Northern Ireland and a second “red lane” for those that may be diverted to the European Union.
- Goods entering Northern Ireland via the green lane will be subject to fewer inspections and paperwork requirements than those entering the red road.
- The Northern Ireland Assembly can object to “substantially different” new EU legislation that would apply in Northern Ireland thanks to a “Stormont brake.”
- Specific EU regulations, such as those on value-added tax and excise for select beverages and goods, would no longer apply to Northern Ireland.
Mr. Sunak reportedly informed Tory MPs during his meeting with the 1922 committee that he had “spent a lot of time” with Sir Jeffrey. And I’ll say this to you all: he said there’s a spectrum of ideas inside the DUP, so we should give him and the party some time and space.
“We shouldn’t pressure them to respond immediately,” Mr. Sunak suggested. The last thing the people want is another Westminster drama, so let’s keep that in mind. Since the announcement of the Windsor Framework on Monday ( 27 Feb 2023), there has been a generally favorable reaction from Conservative members of parliament.
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One supporter of previous Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised Mr. Sunak’s performance in front of the 1922 committee, saying, “he did a good job,” and another Brexiteer praised the PM’s statements, saying they had been exceptionally well received.
A second Tory lawmaker told the BBC that the government should “eat humble pie” because it now appears the prime minister had succeeded where they had failed a week before when they were highly skeptical that Mr. Sunak could negotiate an acceptable arrangement.
The lawmaker said that the “Stormont brake” mechanism, which seeks to give the Northern Ireland Assembly more say on how EU regulations apply, was an ingenious solution that should be applauded because it “squared the circle” between opposing positions.
The Northern Ireland Assembly’s largest party, Sinn Féin, has called on the DUP to rejoin the devolved government. The nationalist party has expressed cautious optimism in the Windsor Framework, pending further review of the agreement’s specifics.