Trade deal with Northern Ireland needs to convince Unionists, says Mordaunt

Cabinet Secretary Penny Mordaunt has said any deal on post-Brexit trade deals in Northern Ireland will need the backing of the Democratic Unionist Party as negotiations continue over the long-running dispute.

Her comments came as former Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Rishi Sunak that it would be a “big mistake” to abandon the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, a piece of legislation that gives UK ministers the power to suspend the 2020 Brexit deal with the EU.

In recent days, the Prime Minister has traveled to Belfast and held talks with EU leaders in Munich, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, to reach an agreement to revise the protocol which unionists say will boost trade between the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland disabled.

On Sunday, Mordaunt said no deal would work unless it was satisfactory to all communities in Northern Ireland, particularly the DUP, which has outlined seven tests for their cooperation.

The party’s demands include no border in the Irish Sea, no controls on goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and respect for the “letter and spirit” of Northern Ireland’s constitutional position.

“The tests the DUP have referred to are not a random wish list, they are promises we have made to the people of Northern Ireland,” the leader of the House of Commons told Sky News. “That’s the yardstick that this deal has to surpass and I know that’s what the Prime Minister is fully focused on.”

When asked about the role of the European Court of Justice in deciding trade disputes – which have not been included in the DUP’s tests but have been rejected by many Tory Brexiters in the past. Mordaunt replied: “The prime minister is focused on removing these practical difficulties, but he has also talked about the democratic deficit.”

Former Brexit secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg called the DUP’s position “extremely reasonable”, noting on Sky’s Sophy Ridge program that the party’s criteria were “absolutely the right tests”.

In a weekend message to his party, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson stressed that progress is currently “currently falling short of what would be acceptable and required to pass our tests as stipulated” and the party must study the fine print of all action.

Meanwhile, the leader of the House of Commons also appeared to lend her support to Johnson, arguing that the former PM’s intervention was a “helpful” reminder to the EU of what the deal “must deliver”.

“I think the Prime Minister will recognize that the presence of the Northern Ireland Protocol Act and the work of the former Prime Minister has helped us get to where we are,” Mordaunt said. “But it has always been our preference to try a negotiated solution and everyone is working on that.”

However, former Labor Secretary Lord Peter Mandelson of Northern Ireland accused Johnson of trying to “wreck” the deal, telling Sky News: “There is nothing Boris Johnson is doing with the European Union now or indeed in our recent history , which could possibly be described as helpful”.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference over the weekend, Sunak reiterated his commitment to working with European allies, stating: “The UK may have left the European Union, it has not left Europe”.

However, he warned that there were “real problems” with the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol “for families, for people, for local businesses” and warned that it could take time to reach an agreement.

“We’re far from done, there’s no deal, there’s work to be done and we’re going to tackle that,” he said.

Additional reporting by Jude Webber Trade deal with Northern Ireland needs to convince Unionists, says Mordaunt

Adam Bradshaw

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