Rishi Sunak has been jeered by MPs in the Commons as he opened a speech on his new Northern Ireland trade deal after paying tribute to his predecessors. The Prime Minister said: “I pay tribute to our European friends for recognising the need for change, particularly President (Ursula) von der Leyen, my predecessors for laying the groundwork for today’s agreement…”
The Prime Minister was then interrupted by laughter from the opposition benches as one Labour MP could be heard shouting: “Where’s Boris?”
Mr Sunak continued: “And my friends the foreign and Northern Ireland secretaries for their perseverance in finally persuading the EU to do what it spent years refusing to do, to rewrite the treaty and replace it with a radical, legally binding new framework.”
The speech to the Commons comes as Downing Street declined to confirm whether MPs will get a straight yes or no vote on the Windsor Framework.
Mr Sunak’s spokesman said “there will be a vote”, but did not give details on timing or in what form.
The official said: “In terms of timing for the vote, obviously that will be set out by the leader in due course. I don’t have the specifics.”
Pressed on the timing, he said: “Our intent is to allow parties and parliamentarians to have the proper time to consider this before bringing forward a vote.”
Mr Sunak told MPs today (February 27) that the Windsor Framework “permanently removes the border in the Irish Sea”.
Laying out some of the detail in the deal on border checks, Mr Sunak said: “The only checks will be those required to stop smugglers and criminals and our new green lane will be open to a broad, comprehensive range of businesses across the United Kingdom.
“I am pleased to say we have also permanently protected tariff-free movement of all types of steel into Northern Ireland, and for goods going the other way from Northern Ireland to Great Britain we have scrapped export declarations, delivering finally completely unfettered trade.”
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In his statement to the chamber, Mr Sunak said: “After weeks of negotiations, today we have made a decisive breakthrough. The Windsor Framework delivers free-flowing trade within the whole UK.
“It protects Northern Ireland’s place in our Union and it safeguards sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland. By achieving all this it preserves the delicate balance inherent in the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.
“It does what many said could not be done, removing thousands of pages of EU laws, and making permanent legally binding changes to the protocol treaty itself. That is the breakthrough we have made, those are the changes we will deliver and now is the time to move forward as one United Kingdom.”
Mr Sunak and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen agreed the long-awaited deal over the Northern Ireland Protocol after a meeting in Windsor lasting under two hours.
A key part of the deal is an “emergency brake” on changes to EU goods rules which can be pulled by the Northern Ireland Assembly that Mr Sunak said would give the Westminster Government a “veto”.
Mr Sunak told a press conference earlier today that he believes the deal is a “turning point for Northern Ireland” which addresses the concerns of the DUP, and is now hoping they will back it and restore powersharing in Stormont.
The protocol, signed by Mr Johnson when he was prime minister, was designed to prevent a hard border with Ireland after Brexit.
Northern Ireland has continued to follow EU rules on goods to prevent checks being needed when crossing into the Republic.
But the trade barriers created between Northern Ireland and Great Britain angered unionists.
The DUP collapsed powersharing at Stormont last year in protest at the protocol’s impact, leaving Northern Ireland without an executive or an assembly.
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