Published on : 02/26/2023 – 21:33
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will meet British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in London on Monday to discuss changes to Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit protocol, the two officials said in a joint statement. The Northern Irish protocol is the main subject of tension between London and Brussels, three years after Brexit.
An agreement on a revision of the Northern Irish protocol has never seemed so close: the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, will meet on Monday February 27 with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak near London to move forward on this file which has poisoned relations between Brussels and London since Brexit.
Discussions over a review of these post-Brexit arrangements in the British province have intensified in recent weeks to the point that on Sunday morning Dominic Raab, the British Deputy Prime Minister, said a deal was “close” to be concluded.
A joint communiqué between London and Brussels then announced in the afternoon the meeting between the two leaders. They “agreed to continue their work in person with a view to finding common and practical solutions to all the complex challenges posed by the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland”.
The thorny question of the border with the EU
As part of the 2020 agreement on the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, London agreed to a Northern Irish “protocol” to avoid imposing customs checks along the 500 kilometers of land border separating the province of the Republic of Ireland.
This protocol thus wanted to avoid a land border between Ireland and Northern Ireland which would risk weakening the peace concluded in 1998 after three bloody decades.
But this text faces fierce opposition from hard Brexiters in London and unionists in Belfast who see it as a threat to the province’s status within the country. The Northern Irish Unionist Party (DUP), which stubbornly refuses any de facto application of European law in the province, has been blocking the functioning of the local executive for a year.
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This arrangement also created de facto controls in the Irish Sea on certain goods coming from Great Britain, which is notably contested by Northern Irish Unionists.
Negotiations on the protocol were reopened in 2022, leading to strong tensions between London and Brussels. The arrival in October in Downing Street of Rishi Sunak, yet a Brexiter from the start, brought a certain appeasement.
Again on Wednesday, he explained “continue to fight” to obtain concessions from the EU.
Rishi Sunak wants ‘the job done’ on Brexit
Writing in the Sunday Times newspaper, he appealed to his divided party on Sunday, saying the negotiated deal is not a threat to Brexit but aims to ‘make sure Brexit works in every part of the UK “. “The work on Brexit remains unfinished and I want the job done,” he said.
If Rishi Sunak manages to agree on Monday with Ursula Von der Leyen, he will still have to face his colleagues. On this issue, he faces strong opposition from elected Conservatives, in particular his predecessor Boris Johnson, who rejected the protocol in 2022 two years after signing it.
The meeting between Rishi Sunak and Ursula Von der Leyen will take place in Berkshire where the city of Windsor is located, west of London.
One of the residences of King Charles III is in Windsor. British media have claimed that Rishi Sunak has considered the possibility of calling any text modifying the application of the Northern Irish protocol “Windsor agreement”.
A press conference could take place after the meeting.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Twitter on Sunday that he had been in contact with Ursula Von der Leyer on Sunday. “We must acknowledge the level of engagement between the UK government, the European Commission and the parties in Northern Ireland over the past few months,” he wrote.
Source: France 24