British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on February 26, 2023 pledged to give everything he has got to fix the lingering problems of Brexit and clinch a new deal with the European Union (EU) that resolves the problematic Northern Ireland Protocol.
The protocol, agreed by his former boss Boris Johnson, was struck to prevent a hard border between UK territory Northern Ireland and EU member-state Ireland.
However, in practice, it has proved controversial and created a standoff between the U.K. and E.U. over a resolution until now, when hopes of a new deal have been revived after intensive talks.
“I voted for Brexit and I believe in Brexit because it offers vast opportunities for families and businesses across our whole country,” writes Mr. Sunak in ‘The Daily Telegraph’.
He notes that while Brexit was about restoring the UK's sovereignty, the Northern Ireland Protocol had undermined that and created "serious barriers to trade within the United Kingdom, and that is unacceptable".
"My job is to seize this opportunity, confront the hard choices, and give everything I’ve got. And I promise you this: I won’t agree on any deal which doesn’t fix the problems and deliver for Northern Ireland and our precious Union. That is the best way to finish the job, to unleash the opportunities of Brexit for every part of our United Kingdom and, finally, to get Brexit done,” he writes.
The protocol meant goods arriving from England, Scotland, and Wales within the United Kingdom are checked when they arrive at Northern Irish ports.
Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) are strongly opposed to this as they see it as undermining the region's position within the rest of the UK, besides severely impacting trade.
A controversial Northern Ireland Protocol Bill drafted before Mr. Sunak took charge at 10 Downing Street was designed for the UK to undo parts of the agreement through a Parliament vote, a move the EU took legal action over and unleashed months of impasse until the latest round of talks.
“No British Prime Minister could ever sit back and just allow these problems to continue. That’s why my predecessors were right to create the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill – and why I supported them in doing so,” notes Mr. Sunak.
“For as long as the European Union refused to reopen negotiations on the Protocol itself, this Bill was the only way forward. I have no doubt that it helped to create the conditions where the EU has been prepared to engage constructively. But my predecessors were also right to say this Bill was a last resort. Like them, I have always said a negotiated solution would be a better outcome,” he writes.
Hard Brexiteers within the Conservative Party, including Boris Johnson, have warned against backing down over the Bill.
However, a growing number of Tory MPs are believed to now be backing Sunak on getting a new deal done — with any rebellion within his party ranks in a House of Commons vote expected next week likely to be minor.
Meanwhile, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has said the deal over trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland was "inching towards a conclusion".
The Taoiseach, as the Prime Minister is known in Ireland, said an agreement could come within days but this was "by no means guaranteed" and urged politicians on all sides to "go the extra mile" to get it over the line.