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Arlene Foster on ‘fundamental problem’ of Protocol in November
Rishi Sunak has been accused of “sitting on” a Brexit deal over Northern Ireland for more than a week. Downing Street continues to insist no agreement has been struck with the EU on the Northern Ireland Protocol.
But The Times reports that official negotiations concluded at the end of last month with the text of a deal given to the PM.
A Whitehall source said: “He has basically been sitting on it, asking for bits of clarification, but the deal is done.
“Theoretically he could try and reopen it with [Ursula] von der Leyen [the European Commission president].
“But I think that would go down badly given the compromises on the EU that have already been made.”
A senior diplomatic source said: “Things are much further than is publicly acknowledged and we are told that the best is to say the least about it.”
Another added: “There is some nervousness about how long it is taking, but we understand that there are political pressures in the UK that have to be managed.”
The deal is reportedly largely based on the UK’s proposals for a red and green lanes system – with the green lane for goods from Great Britain which are staying in Northern Ireland and the red lane to check and control products going on to the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the EU.
Brussels is also said to have made concessions on the key sticking point of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
But it is understood the ECJ could still rule on Northern Ireland issues if a case was referred by courts in the region.
A Government spokesman insisted that no deal had been agreed and that Mr Sunak’s priority remained “preserving political stability in Northern Ireland and the UK internal market”.
He said: “Any solution on the protocol must address the range of issues on the ground in Northern Ireland.
“We are currently engaging in intensive scoping talks with the EU to find solutions to these problems.”
The Northern Ireland Protocol was designed to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic after Brexit.
But the arrangement has been an ongoing source of tensions as it has led to checks on goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
And Unionists are concerned that Mr Sunak will offer concessions to the EU on the protocol.
It comes as the Prime Minister faced another Brexit row after it emerged a secret summit on fixing Brexit took place at Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire last week.
Senior Tory Michael Gove – who co-led the Vote Leave campaign in 2016 – and Labour’s David Lammy, who backed Remain, were among cross-party attendees at the event entitled: “How can we make Brexit work better with our neighbours in Europe?”
But leading Brexiteers have reacted angrily to the conference.
Downing Street insisted the Prime Minister had not been aware in advance of the gathering.
During a visit to Oldham on Monday, Mr Sunak said: “I was proud to vote for Brexit and now as Prime Minister, I’m keen to make sure we deliver the benefits of it.”
But he declined to say whether or not he supported the summit, saying: “It is not about the meeting, I’m talking about what the Government is doing, and that’s making sure we capitalise on the benefits of Brexit.”
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