Rishi Sunak’s Brexit deal for Northern Ireland will be formally signed off on Friday at an official meeting in London, amid hopes that better UK-EU relations can see benefits in other areas.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and the European Commission’s Maros Sefcovic will together chair a meeting that will see the UK and the EU formally adopt the new arrangements for Northern Ireland, after the Government won the backing of MPs for the Windsor Framework earlier this week.
The vote by MPs in favour of regulations to implement the Stormont brake, a key part of the Windsor agreement, came despite former prime ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss joining the Democratic Unionist Party and hardline Brexit-backing Tory MPs in voting against the deal.
The formal sign-off comes as Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s party continues to oppose the deal brokered by the Government, with no sign of the DUP yet being willing to return to powersharing.
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris warned the DUP that there was no prospect of renegotiating the deal ahead of Friday’s meeting, which comes after Brussels also formally agreed to the key parts of the Windsor Framework at a Council of the EU meeting.
The formal sign-off will come at a Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee meeting, with the Foreign Secretary and Mr Sefcovic also set to attend a meeting of the partnership council – another of the implementation bodies under the Brexit deal.
“The framework is the best deal for Northern Ireland, safeguarding its place in the Union and protecting the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.
“I look forward to further effective co-operation with the EU on key issues, such as security and energy.”
The UK hopes that the new deal on the protocol can mark a step towards British participation in the EU’s 100 billion euro Horizon programme, with science and research likely to feature in official discussions between the pair.
Mr Cleverly and Mr Sefcovic will also discuss a recent agreement between the UK, Ireland and the EU on Peace Plus, the cross-border peace funding programme.
The continuing stand-off over Stormont suggests the prospects for a return to powersharing at Stormont in time for the 25th anniversary next month of the Good Friday Agreement remain bleak.
The executive and the Assembly have been suspended since the DUP walked out last year in protest at the way the Northern Ireland Protocol negotiated by Mr Johnson was operating.