The risk of a “political impasse” in Northern Ireland remains, as the DUP looks at details

  • UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was given a boost on Monday, when Opposition Leader Keir Starmer confirmed his Labor Party would vote for the deal, known as the Windsor Framework.
  • The problem could come from Stormont, near Belfast, where Northern Ireland’s devolved assembly has been suspended for a year after the pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party withdrew in protest at the Northern Ireland Protocol.

WINDSOR, UK, 27 February 2023: UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (L) and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen announced a landmark post-Brexit trade deal that seeks to fix problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Dan Kitwood/AFP via Getty Images

LONDON — The new Brexit deal signed by Britain and the European Union on Monday was heralded as a “turning point” for Northern Ireland but must still pass muster in Belfast.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak received a boost on Monday, when opposition leader Keir Starmer confirmed his Labor Party would vote in favor of the deal – known as the Windsor Framework – which aims to solve a host of problems caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol.

This all but ensures its passage through the British Parliament in Westminster, regardless of an expected opposition from hard Brexiteers in Sunak’s own Conservative Party.

The problem may come from across the Irish Sea in Stormont, near Belfast, where the devolved Northern Ireland assembly has been suspended for a year after the pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) withdrew in protest at the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The DUP argued that the controls on goods traveling between the UK – England, Scotland and Wales – had effectively placed a border in the Irish Sea, ostracized Belfast from the rest of the UK and robbed it of autonomy due to its adherence to EU legal systems. .

The problems arose from the fact that Northern Ireland, which is in the UK and therefore no longer in the EU, shares a border with the Republic of Ireland, which is still in the European alliance.

The previous deal, negotiated and signed by former prime minister Boris Johnson, was also criticized for jeopardizing the Good Friday Agreement – a landmark peace deal that ended three decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

In a statement on Monday, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said his party’s opposition to the previous arrangement had been “confirmed” and thanked Sunak and his predecessors for their work at the negotiating table.

“Overall, it is clear that significant progress has been made in a number of areas, while recognizing that important issues remain,” Donaldson said.

“There is no hiding the fact that in some sectors of our economy, EU law still applies in Northern Ireland.”

He said the DUP would need to study the details of the Windsor Framework against the party’s “seven tests” to determine whether it “respects and restores Northern Ireland’s place in the UK.”

The seven tests

The first of these “seven tests” requires an agreement to respect the sixth article of the 200-year-old Act of Union, which states that all British citizens should be “entitled to the same privileges and to be on the same footing” – a principle the DUP apparently said was not the case in Johnson’s agreement.

The party also demanded that Northern Irish consumers and businesses should not be forced to buy certain goods from the EU and not from the UK.

BELFAST, UK, 17 February 2023: DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson speaks to reporters outside the Culloden Hotel in Belfast after Northern Irish leaders held talks with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Liam McBurney/PA photos via Getty Images

It also insisted on the abolition of a notional trade border requiring additional checks on goods traveling between the UK and Northern Ireland, in case they enter Ireland. All checks must be abolished to restore Northern Ireland’s status in the UK market, the DUP said.

The fourth condition was that Northern Ireland should have a say over rules allowing goods to move back and forth across the southern border of the Republic, and that no new regulatory barriers should arise between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, unless agreed at Stormont.

The seventh demand was to preserve the “letter and spirit” of Northern Ireland’s position in the UK, as set out in the Good Friday Agreement. This requires majority consent among the people of Northern Ireland for any reduction of the country’s status as an equal part of the United Kingdom

The Windsor Framework removes checks on goods moving from the UK to Northern Ireland that will remain in the UK and also enables the same tax and duty changes to apply in Northern Ireland as in the rest of the UK

It also introduces a new mechanism called the “Stormont brake”, which gives the Northern Ireland Assembly a say on whether changes to EU goods rules affecting Northern Ireland should apply. Pulling this brake would give the UK government veto power over the adoption of a new EU rule.

“The Windsor Framework provides practical solutions to many of the obstacles posed to the free movement of goods under the Northern Ireland Protocol,” said Gaurav Ganguly, senior director of economic research at Moody’s Analytics.

“The deal signals an improvement in EU-UK relations, but it may not be enough to satisfy Unionists in Stormont. Despite the deal, there is still the risk of a political impasse in Northern Ireland.”

Rumblings of discontent have already emerged within DUP ranks. DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr, son of the party’s founder, told the BBC on Monday that his gut instinct was that the new deal “doesn’t cut the mustard”.

Should the DUP reject the deal, Sunak may have to return to the negotiating table, reigniting the uncertainty that has plagued Britain’s political and investment landscape for almost seven years.

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