Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visited Northern Ireland on Tuesday after the UK and European Union sealed a deal a day earlier to resolve their post-Brexit dispute over trade in the region.
Speaking on the BBC on Tuesday morning, Sunak said he believed “hand on heart” that “this agreement is going to make a huge difference” to businesses and people in Northern Ireland.
“That’s what I’m going to talk to people about today, listening to them and explaining how this deal is going to be positive.”
Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the ‘Windsor Framework’ on Monday after agreeing to the final details in Windsor, near London.
It aims to allow for smoother trade between the rest of the UK and Northern Ireland, which was complicated by the old protocol negotiated in 2020 under then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“I’m over the moon that yesterday we managed to have a decisive breakthrough with our negotiations with the EU,” Sunak said.
“The new Windsor framework that I think is an extraordinarily positive step for Northern Ireland and it represents […] a historic moment for us to move forward and resolve some of the difficulties of the past.”
The agreement, which will allow goods to flow freely to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, could end a dispute that has soured its relations with the bloc.
Now Sunak is waiting for the judgment of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which is boycotting the region’s power-sharing government until the trade arrangements are changed to its satisfaction.
The DUP collapsed Northern Ireland’s government a year ago, and it has asked authorities to lift customs controls on most products arriving in Northern Ireland from other parts of the United Kingdom.
Sunak said the new rules “removed any sense of a border in the Irish Sea” by eliminating checks and paperwork for the vast majority of goods entering Northern Ireland.
Only those destined to travel onward to EU member Ireland will be checked.
The revised text also gives Northern Ireland’s devolved assembly the power to stop any forthcoming EU legislation that it considers to be inimical to regional interests.
“Today’s agreement delivers smooth-flowing trade within the whole United Kingdom, protects Northern Ireland’s place in our union and safeguards sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland,” Sunak said.
Von der Leyen stressed that the EU’s borderless single market would be protected by safeguards including “IT access, labels and enforcement procedures” and said the European Court of Justice would remain “the sole and ultimate arbiter of EU law.”
The role of the European court in resolving any disputes that arise over the rules has been the thorniest issue in the talks.
The UK and the EU agreed in their Brexit divorce deal to give the European court that authority. But the DUP and Conservative Party Eurosceptics insist the court must have no jurisdiction in UK matters.