Sunak and von der Leyen make 'good progress' in Northern Ireland deal talks

UK leader pledges Parliament's input and aims to win over DUP ahead of possible announcement

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is said to still be in 'intensive discussions' with the EU. Bloomberg
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UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had a “positive” conversation with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and made “good progress” on a post-Brexit deal for Northern Ireland, according to a source from his office.

The two are expected to continue discussions in the coming days.

Mr Sunak has assured that Parliament will have the opportunity to “express its view” on the deal, which he hopes will encourage the Democratic Unionist Party to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland.

The Times reported that Mr Sunak is preparing to announce the deal on Monday, pending approval from the DUP.

The Downing Street spokesman said “negotiations are continuing, so there isn't a finalised deal for people to take a judgment on”.

But the Prime Minister would come under intense pressure if he did not give the DUP an explicit vote on the issue, amid fears there could be a rebellion.

A deal had been hoped for this week but Downing Street said on Friday that “intensive discussions” with the EU were continuing.

Britain's Foreign Minister James Cleverly said London would not sign off on a deal with the EU over changes to Northern Ireland's post-Brexit trading arrangements without the backing of its biggest unionist party.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly says UK won't sign off on Northern Ireland deal without DUP backing. Reuters

Mr Cleverly told Times Radio on Friday that Britain's negotiations around the Northern Ireland Protocol were focused on addressing the concerns of the DUP.

“When, hopefully, we get those issues resolved then I would hope that the DUP would recognise that we've addressed their concerns, and until we have addressed those concerns we're not going to sign off on the deal,” he said.

A DUP official said the focus in London and Brussels should be on getting the right deal, not rushing ahead.

“The wrong deal will not restore power-sharing but will cement division for future generations,” the official said.

Opinion polls have consistently shown a majority of Northern Ireland voters — who in the 2016 referendum voted to remain in the EU — favour the idea of the protocol.

It is also backed by a majority of members of the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont.

The DUP has issued seven tests to win its backing for any deal, including addressing what it calls the “democratic deficit”, meaning Northern Ireland is subject to EU rules.

Updated: February 24, 2023, 6:55 PM