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The Prime Minister insisted “we have not got a deal yet” after holding talks with the main political parties in Northern Ireland. But he has vowed to continue negotiating with the European Commission “intensely” as the protocol is causing “practical problems” for “families and businesses”.
The Northern Ireland Protocol is the trade deal agreed to ensure the free movement of goods across the Irish land border after Brexit.
Unionist parties argue that placing an effective trade border across the Irish Sea undermines Northern Ireland’s place within the UK.
Mr Sunak is set to meet Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, at the Munich Security Conference tomorrow.
Irish premier Leo Varadkar said there is “a window of opportunity” in the next few weeks to reach a deal on the protocol, which has been the subject of three years of post-Brexit wrangling.
Mr Sunak said: “I had positive conversations with political parties in Northern Ireland about our ongoing discussions to resolve the Northern Ireland Protocol.” Foreign Secretary James Cleverly also met European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic in Brussels.
The DUP has hailed progress on the protocol – but warned it will not compromise on its Brexit “red lines”.
Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said any deal must meet the tests his party set to measure efforts to end barriers created by the post-Brexit pact. They include no checks on goods travelling between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
The Taoiseach said: “When windows of opportunity disappear, sometimes they don’t reappear for quite some time.
“So I really hope everyone in Ireland and Europe, in Britain and in Northern Ireland will seize this opportunity if it arises.”
Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald said she believed “very significant progress has been made”.
She added it was “very much game on”. Reports have suggested a deal between the EU and UK could be unveiled early next week.
Boris Johnson is said to be poised to capitalise on division over Mr Sunak’s proposed deal and use it as a “springboard” to improve his standing in the Conservative Party.
A Tory insider warned Mr Johnson will “then come out swinging” if Mr Sunak fails to deliver, adding: “The Boris faction is licking their lips”. The ex-PM is set to write an opinion piece in the coming days.
The insider said: “It will be something like ‘Rishi, I know you can get a better deal’, while also scheming behind his back.”
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