Rishi Sunak urged not to cave to EU in Northern Ireland negotiations

Leo Varadkar says he ‘has regrets’ over Northern Ireland Protocol

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The Northern Ireland Protocol was key to breaking Brexit negotiation deadlock prior to the UK’s departure from the EU. Two years after it came into force, Rishi Sunak is seeking a new deal as dissatisfaction from officials in Brussels and Stormont reaches boiling point. With resolution imminent, a new Express.co.uk poll has found almost nine in ten readers believe the Prime Minister should not cave to pressure from the EU and compromise to secure a deal.

Since the UK formally left the EU three years ago, Northern Ireland has continued to follow EU rules for goods, VAT and state aid policy – conditions deemed necessary at the time to avoid a hard land border in Ireland.

However, this has resulted in customs checks on sea trade with Great Britain – a situation the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and a number of Conservative Brexiteers have long deemed an unacceptable breach of UK sovereignty.

Rishi Sunak has been negotiating a new deal to resolve the issue, and many suggest a breakthrough could be achieved any day now.

On Thursday, the Prime Minister dashed to Belfast ahead of meetings with Northern Ireland’s main political parties on Friday. On Saturday, at the annual Munich Security Conference, Mr Sunak sat down with EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen for further talks.

After what he described as a positive discussion, the Prime Minister said: “There are still challenges to work through … there isn’t a deal that has been done. There is an understanding of what needs to be done.”

Mr Sunak’s stance has, however, aroused fears from a number of senior Tories that undue concessions may be made to Brussels to break the stalemate.

In a poll that ran from 12pm on Friday, February 17, to 9am on Monday, February 20, Express.co.uk asked readers: “Should Rishi Sunak compromise with EU to secure breakthrough in Northern Ireland?”

Overall, 9,523 votes were cast with an overwhelming majority, 89 percent (8,515 people), answering “No” – the Prime Minister should not make concessions for a deal.

Just 10 percent (956 people) said “Yes” to compromise, while less than one percent (52 people) said they “Didn’t know”.

Hundreds of comments were left below the accompanying article as readers debated how tough the UK ought to be in negotiating with Brussels.

READ MORE: Officials warn they don’t yet know if a deal can be made with the EU

Most proved sceptical of the EU’s intentions. Username racyjase69 wrote: “We should never compromise with the EU as it will only be on their terms.”

Username citizenz1234 agreed: “Compromise is one thing, but I suspect that the EU want capitulation,” as did username L65: “No…give them an inch and they will take a mile.”

Channelling Boris Johnson, username AlHamilton wrote: “No compromise, Brexit means Brexit.”

Praising the existing deal cooked up by the former PM, username faragegarage said: “We signed the Oven Ready Deal! Good old Boris got an 80-seat majority on the strength of it. That means the British people approved it. Why should the DUP have any say?”

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Username genetic_garbage relied on analogy to explain further: “It’s not compromising. It’s following the treaty that Johnson wrote and negotiated, and then Parliament ratified. It’s like getting a mortgage and then ‘compromising’ by paying your monthly instalments.”

Some, however, came out in favour of walking away from the table entirely. Username Pished.Artist commented: “Only compromise is to cancel all deals with the EU, and never make deals with them again.”

Username bobsmythe44 agreed, saying: “Time to terminate all agreements with the EU and trade with them like we do with the USA and most of the countries around the world.”

Others had more doubt about the strength of the UK’s position. Username JK2 wrote: “Sunak has little choice but to cooperate with the EU to reach an agreement. The lesson from the Truss fiasco is that the UK economy is on a knife edge with the market makers watching.”

Over the weekend, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the “big moment” had arrived and warned the upcoming decision could either “consign Northern Ireland to more division” or forge a path “towards healing and the restoration” of the devolved government institutions at Stormont.

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson also weighed in, warning Mr Sunak that scuppering the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill would be a “great mistake”.

The bill – introduced by Mr Johnson and currently paused on its way through Parliament as talks with the EU draw on – would, if ratified, allow the UK to unilaterally abandon parts of the Northern Ireland treaty.

One of his first forays into Brexit politics since leaving Number 10 in September, his intervention has been met with both criticism and praise. Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, Leader of the Commons Penny Mordaunt hailed Mr Johnson’s input as not “entirely unhelpful”.

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