In a major development, Britain and the European Union, on Monday, finalised a long-awaited and much-touted agreement over post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen signed off on the deal at a meeting in Windsor, England. Afterwards Sunak said the pair would hold a news conference on Monday. The government had previously said that would only happen if a deal was struck.
The agreement is be a big victory for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak — but not the end of his troubles. Selling the deal to his own Conservative Party and its Northern Ireland allies may be a tougher struggle. Now Sunak awaits the judgment of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which is boycotting the region’s power-sharing government until the trade arrangements are substantially changed.
Sign of a potential UK-EU breakthrough came Sunday, when the two sides announced that von der Leyen would meet Sunak in Windsor, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) west of London. Sunak is due to make a statement by Sunak to the House of Commons later. A meeting between von der Leyen and King Charles III at Windsor Castle is also planned. The meeting is likely to touch on a variety of issues including climate change and the war in Ukraine.
Buckingham Palace said the meeting was taking place on the government’s advice, leading critics to accuse Sunak of dragging the monarch, who is supposed to remain neutral, into a political row.
“I cannot quite believe that No. 10 would ask HM the King to become involved in the finalising of a deal as controversial as this one. It’s crass and will go down very badly in NI,” former Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster said on Twitter.
Sunak’s spokesman, Max Blain, said the government “would never” embroil the king in politics. “His Majesty has met with a number of foreign leaders recently,” he said, including Polish President Andrzej Duda and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy. “This is no different.”
If all goes to plan, the deal could end a dispute that has soured U.K.-EU relations, sparked the collapse of the Belfast-based regional government and shaken Northern Ireland’s decades-old peace process.
(With inputs from AP)