Northern Ireland Protocol deal could be reached in 'days not weeks', says UK's Raab

The Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary said real progress has been made

Dominic Raab said a deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol is close. Bloomberg
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A deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol could be delivered within “days, not weeks”, according to Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab.

Mr Raab, who is also the UK's Justice Secretary, said there had been “real progress” on the Protocol, which is an accord Britain reached with the EU as part of its 2020 leaving agreement.

The UK and the EU have been at loggerheads over Northern Ireland — the only part of the UK that shares a border with an EU member, the Republic of Ireland — since Britain's exit from the trade bloc became final in 2020.

When the UK left the EU, the two sides agreed to keep the Irish border free of customs posts and other checks because an open border is a key pillar of Northern Ireland’s peace process.

Under the agreement, there are checks on some goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. That angers British unionist politicians, who insist that the new trade border undermines Northern Ireland's place in the UK.

Northern Ireland's power-sharing government has been non-functional since the Democratic Unionist party walked out a year ago over the Protocol.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said he is “giving it everything” this weekend to secure a new deal for Northern Ireland.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said an agreement over trade between Britain and Northern Ireland was “inching” towards a conclusion.

Asked whether a deal could be unveiled on Monday, Mr Raab told Sky News' Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme: “I think there is real progress.

“We want to make sure all the pieces are in place.

“But I think, hopefully, there will be good news in a matter of days, not weeks.”

Mr Raab said the UK was looking for a more “light touch” approach from the EU when it comes to checks on goods trading between Northern Ireland and Britain.

He said: “If we can make some of those changes, which we've been pushing for, to get a shift away, for example, in trade in goods from GB, from Britain to Northern Ireland, to having checks and declarations on individual consigns towards a more intelligence-based approach to controls.

“If we can encourage the EU to rely more on market surveillance than those checks — market surveillance particularly in the Republic — to protect the EU single market, if we can get that kind of deal across the line, it would mark a paradigm shift in approach and would be very good news for the communities of Northern Ireland and for the Good Friday Agreement.”

He said MPs will get a chance to have a say on the deal.

Stormont Estate in Belfast. Northern Ireland's power-sharing government has not been functioning for the past year due to the Protocol impasse. PA

He said: “Look, let me allow the government to set all the details in the proper way but I think, inevitably, Parliament will find a way to have its say.

“I want to give you a sense of the direction of travel. But, of course, we've got to get the deal at international level signed and agreed, and make sure that the arrangements that underpin it, and to the extent that they will require legislation, they would have to get through the House of Commons.

“We want to handle this properly and in the right way. I think one thing we've learnt with meaningful votes and various other things since 2016 and beyond is that you have to carry Parliament with you, and I'm confident we would be able to.”

However, senior Labour MP David Lammy said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak should not rush into holding a vote in Parliament on his revised Northern Ireland Protocol terms.

The shadow foreign secretary told Sky News' Sophy Ridge On Sunday that any deal should “ease any friction and minimise any sorts of customs checks”.

He added: “There was always more to build on, that's why we look forward to seeing the detail of this deal as it emerges.

“That's why it is important for all sides to consider that carefully.

“There should be no rush, I think, on any vote in Parliament. People are entitled to look at the small print in detail.

“I hope now that all of us can come together and vote through any deal, and get back to Stormont, underpinned by the Good Friday Agreement, and move on from this episode that has now gone on for many years indeed.”

Updated: February 26, 2023, 4:11 PM