Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (left) and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen hold a joint press conference following their meeting at the Fairmont Hotel in Windsor, west of London, on February 27, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)
LONDON – British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was in Belfast on Tuesday to start selling the new post-Brexit trading arrangements he agreed with Brussels, seeking to get unionists onside to finally break the political deadlock in the province.
Sunak struck a deal with the European Union on Monday to ease restrictions on trade between Northern Ireland and Britain, and to give lawmakers on the ground a greater say over the rules and regulations they follow from Brussels.
The deal UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak struck with the European Union on Monday seeks to resolve the tensions caused by the Northern Ireland protocol, a complex agreement which set the trading rules for the British-governed region that London agreed before it left the EU but now says are unworkable
The deal seeks to resolve the tensions caused by the Northern Ireland protocol, a complex agreement which set the trading rules for the British-governed region that London agreed before it left the EU but now says are unworkable.
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Its success is likely to hinge on whether it convinces the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to end its boycott of Northern Ireland's power-sharing arrangements. These were central to the 1998 peace deal which mostly ended three decades of sectarian and political violence in Northern Ireland.
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly told Sky News Sunak would talk through the practicalities of what's been agreed, adding that the government had taken on board the concerns of the unionists who fear any loosening of ties with London.
"We listened very, very carefully to the people, the businesses and the elected representatives in Northern Ireland," he said.
The issue of Northern Ireland has been one of the most contentious parts of Britain's 2020 departure from the EU, souring relations between London and Brussels and hurting cooperation in other areas, including science and financial services.
British newspapers, including those that backed a harder line against Brussels, welcomed the concessions achieved by Sunak although they said it was too soon to know whether it would be enough to get the DUP to return to power sharing.
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The Daily Telegraph newspaper said Sunak had played a difficult hand well after he chose to prioritize friendlier relations with the EU, as opposed to his predecessors Liz Truss and Boris Johnson who took a more combative approach.
"Now he awaits the crucial response of the DUP and the Brexiteers," it said. "Time will tell if he has pulled off a political triumph."