Deputy Prime Minister says UK on ‘cusp' of Northern Ireland Protocol deal
The Prime Minister is “on the cusp” of securing new Brexit terms with the European Union, according to his deputy.
Dominic Raab has put Westminster on stand-by for a Northern Ireland Protocol deal to be announced after saying he expected a fresh pact to be signed off in “days, not weeks”.
The Deputy Prime Minister said there had been a “paradigm shift” in the approach from Brussels, hinting that talks had wielded changes on customs checks as well as dealing with Unionists' concerns around Northern Ireland not having a say in EU rules that impact on the region.
Mr Raab, asked on Sky News' Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme whether a deal could be unveiled as soon as Monday, replied: “I think there is real progress.
“We want to make sure all the pieces are in place.
“I think, hopefully, there will be good news in a matter of days, not weeks.”
The Cabinet minister later told the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg: “If we can get this over the line — we're on the cusp, we've made great progress, we're not there yet — this would be a really important deal.”
It comes as Rishi Sunak said on Saturday his administration was “giving it everything we've got” to finalise a deal to fix issues with the protocol, a Brexit treaty negotiated by former prime minister Boris Johnson.
As Downing Street appeared to gear up for an announcement, Mr Sunak was warned by both Eurosceptic Conservatives on his backbenches and the Labour Party not to rush into calling a Parliament vote on his agreement.
Mr Sunak has previously pledged for MPs to be given the ability to “express” their view on the revised terms.
Mark Francois, chairman of the Tory Eurosceptic European Research Group (ERG), and Labour shadow foreign secretary David Lammy, not natural bedfellows, agreed there should be “no rush on any vote in Parliament”.
Mr Lammy signalled that Labour was prepared to back Mr Sunak's deal, a safety net No 10 are determined not to have to rely upon.
Instead, the Prime Minister is keen to secure support from both his backbenches and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
Speaking to The Sunday Times, Mr Sunak pledged that “anything that we do will tick all of those boxes” in terms of Unionist concerns with the protocol.
The protocol, signed by Mr Johnson in 2020, was designed to prevent a hard border with Ireland after Brexit by effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the EU's single market.
But the trade barriers created by the treaty has created Unionist tension, with Mr Sunak admitting that it had “unbalanced” the Good Friday Agreement that helped end the Troubles bloodshed in Northern Ireland.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson's party has issued seven tests that Mr Sunak's new pact will have to meet in order to win its backing, including addressing what the DUP calls the “democratic deficit” of Northern Ireland being subject to EU rules while not having a say on them.
Mr Raab, who is also the Justice Secretary, suggested that UK negotiators had secured concessions on that issue, as well as removing red tape on internal market trade.
“If there are any new rules that would apply in relation to Northern Ireland, it must be right that there is a Northern Irish democratic check on that,” Mr Raab told the BBC.
“Again, that would mark a significant shift in the paradigm of the arrangements.”
The Leave campaigner also appeared to confirm reports about new customs arrangements for goods travelling into Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
Several reports have said there will be red and green lanes for customs, allowing trusted traders to send goods from Great Britain into Northern Ireland without checks, while goods destined for Ireland and the EU's single market will go through the red lane.
“Those are the kind of things we have been pushing for,” he told Sky.
Mr Francois warned that it was a “practical reality” that if the DUP does not agree with the changes Mr Sunak has secured then “it is simply not going to fly”.
He pointed to Foreign Secretary James Cleverly saying on Friday that ministers were “not going to sign off on the deal” until DUP concerns had been addressed as a sign that the UK Government recognised the authority Sir Jeffrey's party held on the matter.
Fellow Eurosceptic George Eustice, a former environment secretary, called on his party colleagues to be “open minded” to what the Prime Minister comes back with.
“We have to stop thinking if there is a deal that is about to be done, it means we've been done over in some way,” he told the BBC.
But he admitted to being “a little bit nervous” about the continued role of the European Court of Justice's (ECJ) in policing single market rules in Northern Ireland under No 10's reforms.
Mr Raab told Sky that cutting regulatory checks on trade would “involve a significant, substantial scaling back of the role of the ECJ” but refused to rule out it having a say on future trade disputes.
Former minister Mr Francois declared that “less of a role” for European judges was “not enough” of a concession, adding: “We have to get rid of the EU law in Northern Ireland.”
DUP MP Sammy Wilson told GB News it was a “red line” for his party that “no EU law” should continue to apply in Northern Ireland.
“Not only are we given those laws and have imposed those laws on us at present, but they're imposed without any say either by British ministers or by politicians in Northern Ireland,” he said.