Protocol for Northern Ireland: Can the PM sell a changed agreement at home

Rishi Sunak and Ursula von der Leyen

The pieces of the puzzle are well known. They have been on the table for some time, a prominent EU official recently informed me. It's up to the two of us to muster the courage to jump together while holding hands. ".

Both Rishi Sunak and the President of the European Commission are described by their teams as preferring not to sign a deal over pursuing (another) one they believe is bound to fail.

Will this work, then?

Rishi Sunak is characterized as pragmatist by Brussels. Yes, a Brexit supporter, but also a politician who is solutions-oriented and pragmatic rather than ideological.

His predecessors, Liz Truss, who they claim "didn't dare touch the post-Brexit agreement on Northern Ireland" (you might wonder if she had the time in her brief premiership? ), and Boris Johnson, whom EU leaders largely believe signed the agreement "in bad faith," are compared favorably to him by EU diplomats.

Although he publicly denied knowing about the protocol deal's requirement for checks on goods traveling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, they insist he did.

But with so much on the line, not to mention Northern Ireland's politics and stability as well as the future of his own Conservative Party, why would Mr. Sunak try to resolve this complex and divisive post-Brexit issue?

Strikes, a challenging upcoming budget, and local elections in May with the Conservatives trailing in national polls are just a few of the issues he already has to deal with.

However, the EU recognized that the prime minister had a number of compelling political and economic reasons to support a revised Northern Ireland deal.

Mr. Sunak's top priorities are better ties with the US and the EU.

It was made clear by the Biden administration that previous UK government talk of unilaterally overriding the current Northern Ireland Agreement would not be "conducive" to a trade agreement between the UK and the US.

Additionally, the Good Friday/Belfast Peace Agreement celebrates its 25th anniversary this April.

President Biden is welcome to visit, says the prime minister. However, he must first sufficiently alter the protocol to convince the Democratic Unionist Party to join and reestablish the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland.

Sunnier ties with the EU, the UK's largest trading partner, are also beneficial to Mr. Sunak.

The prime minister very much hopes to avoid a costly trade war with Brussels if this revised agreement fails, but if it does, he will be forced to move forward with a Bill to unilaterally override important portions of the protocol.

A revised agreement and increased bilateral trust could facilitate future agreements with the EU, such as the UK joining the alluring Horizon research program, negotiating a post-Brexit agreement on financial services, and facilitating travel within the EU for UK musicians.

Additionally, it would strengthen ties with France just before a significant Franco-UK summit where fighting people smuggler boats across the English Channel will be a major topic of discussion.

Goods checked at he port of Larne, Northern Ireland

Since the acrimonious days of the initial Brexit negotiations, EU-UK relations have already significantly improved.

Both sides were reminded of the shared values and objectives by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. They have collaborated closely on Nato country-by-country negotiations and sanctions against Russia.

There is a lot of optimism within the EU that disagreements over the Northern Ireland Protocol can now be resolved.

The EU claims that it accepts the risk that fewer customs inspections pose to its single market as a price worth paying. .

Therefore, the UK has had the initiative for some time.

How to package and present a deal in a way that is practical and acceptable to the important "stakeholders" — the public and political in the UK — is the challenge.

Although Ursula von der Leyen's trip to the UK on Monday is thought to be the final component of the presentation, EU diplomats in Brussels murmur that they aren't counting their chickens. .

We understand that negotiations with us [the EU] are only one step in a UK prime minister's journey, as one EU official told me. In the UK, Brexit sparked severe internal conflict. A revised Northern Ireland agreement has been subject to negotiation. Now we wait and observe.

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