Rishi Sunak risks Eurosceptic anger over Brexit endgame

Rishi Sunak has played a risky game to secure a deal with Brussels over Northern Ireland and made a surprise visit to Belfast as Tory Eurosceptics warned he was going too far to accommodate the EU.

Britain’s Prime Minister is trying to rally support from Northern Ireland parties for a framework deal with the EU to resolve a two-year-old dispute over the region’s post-Brexit trade. Unionists, Conservatives and businesses complain that the current arrangements have hampered business with the mainland.

Sunak will hold talks in Belfast before traveling to Munich on Saturday, where he is expected to meet EU leaders on the sidelines of a security conference to try to settle the damaging row over Brexit.

But he faces a backlash from Eurosceptic Tory MPs if – as expected – the deal on the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol gives EU judges a role in the region.

David Jones, deputy chair of the pro-Brexit Tory European Research Group, said Sunak had not discussed the alleged deal with his group, arguing that it would not be acceptable for any other country in the world to give EU judges jurisdiction in the UK give. .

Jones added, “There would be a general dissatisfaction with the Conservative Party leadership, which would not bode well for the leadership.”

Sunak acknowledges the risk that senior Eurosceptics – including former Prime Minister Boris Johnson – could attack him over a deal with the EU.

He will decide whether to continue the gambit over the weekend, knowing that a deal could anger some Tory MPs but help rebuild ties with the EU, Britain’s biggest trading partner.

As expectations of a deal grow, Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission’s Brexit negotiator, is set to meet Foreign Secretary James Cleverly over lunch in Brussels on Friday. Šefčovič will then brief the ambassadors of the 27 EU member states at a private meeting convened at short notice.

Any agreement would need the support of member states, but there was broad support for the changes proposed by the Commission.

Sunak will first seek to sell the deal to Northern Ireland’s pro-British Democratic Unionist Party, which is boycotting the region’s gathering in Stormont in protest at the protocol, and will meet with other political leaders and business figures.

Jones said it will prove a “vain exercise” if agreement on protocol does not persuade the DUP to return to the power-sharing executive.

The UK government has expressed confidence that the deal would win support from the DUP, which has been less exercised than Tory Eurosceptics about the role of EU judges.

The framework agreement between the UK and the EU, which has been drafted for months, aims to reduce border conflicts in Irish Sea ports in trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

This would be done by creating a ‘green lane’ for goods destined to remain in Northern Ireland and a ‘red lane’ for goods destined for the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the EU internal market which remain under control.

The EU insists it must oversee trade in Northern Ireland, which remained in the single market for goods after the Johnson-Brexit deal when the rest of the UK left the bloc.

The European Court of Justice, which enforces the rules of the single market, is expected to retain a role, although both sides will insist that most cases be settled without going to the judges in Luxembourg.

Downing Street said talks with the EU were “ongoing” and ministers were in touch with stakeholders “to ensure any solution addresses the practical issues on the ground, meets our overarching objectives and secures Northern Ireland’s place in the UK single market”.

Political parties and business leaders in Northern Ireland said they still had no information on the content of any agreement and had not been invited to meetings. “Honestly, I think it’s still waterproof,” said one business leader.

https://www.ft.com/content/fb0618b8-5606-4400-bc22-c5aaf90bb638 Rishi Sunak risks Eurosceptic anger over Brexit endgame

Adam Bradshaw

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