An agreement on a revision of the Northern Ireland protocol has never seemed so close: the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, will meet Monday with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak near London on this issue of high tensions since Brexit.
Discussions on a review of these post-Brexit provisions in the British province have intensified in recent weeks to the point that Sunday morning Dominic Raab, the British Deputy Prime Minister, said that an agreement was "on the verge" of being reached.
The only land border between the UK and the EU
Negotiations on the protocol were reopened in 2022, leading to sharp tensions between London and Brussels. The arrival in October in Downing Street of Rishi Sunak, yet Brexiter of the first hour, brought a certain appeasement. Also on Wednesday, he explained that he was "continuing to fight" to obtain concessions from the local EU for a year in the North, which would risk weakening the peace concluded in 1998 after three bloody decades.
At the heart of this protocol, negotiated at the same time as the Brexit treaty and signed in 2020: the thorny issue of the border between the United Kingdom and the European Union after Brexit.
It effectively keeps Northern Ireland, which has Britain's only land border with the EU, in the European single market. It thus imposes customs controls between this British province and the rest of the United Kingdom on the arrival of goods in Northern Ireland. This protocol was intended to avoid a land border between Ireland and Northern Ireland that would risk undermining the peace concluded in 1998 after three bloody decades.
But this text faces fierce opposition from hard Brexiteers 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 EU law in the province, has been blocking the functioning of the local executive for a year.
A calming since the arrival of Sunak in Downing Street
Negotiations on the protocol were reopened in 2022, leading to sharp tensions between London and Brussels. The arrival in October in Downing Street of Rishi Sunak, yet Brexiter of the first hour, brought a certain appeasement. Also on Wednesday, he explained that he was "continuing to fight" for concessions from the EU.
In the Sunday Times newspaper on Sunday, he appealed to his divided party, explaining that the negotiated deal is not a threat to Brexit but aims to "make sure Brexit works in every region of the UK". "The work on Brexit remains unfinished and I want the job done," he said.
If Rishi Sunak manages to reach an agreement with Ursula Von der Leyen on Monday, he will still have to confront his colleagues. On this issue, he faces strong opposition from Conservative MPs, including his predecessor Boris Johnson, who rejected the protocol in 2022 two years after signing it.
Waiting for a "Windsor Accord"
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 King Charles III's residences is in Windsor. British media have claimed that Rishi Sunak has considered the possibility of calling any text changing the application of the Northern Ireland protocol a "Windsor Accord".
A press conference could be held after the meeting. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Sunday on Twitter 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 Northern Ireland parties in recent months," he wrote.
- Northern Ireland
- United Kingdom
- European Union (EU)
- Rishi Sunak
- Ursula von der Leyen