British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visits the Coca-Cola factory in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on February 28, 2023.
Belfast (Great Britain) – British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visited Northern Ireland in an attempt to convince hitherto hesitant political players of the benefit of the new agreement with the European Union on the trade regime in this British region. Above all, the verdict is awaited from the Northern Irish party DUP, which is boycotting the regional self-government in protest due to the current arrangement. At the same time, Sunak is trying to minimize opposition within his own Conservative Party and, according to British commentators, he has yet to win in this new chapter of the Brexit negotiations.
In the morning, the British Prime Minister addressed journalists and Northern Irish businessmen at an event at the Coca-Cola factory in the regional capital of Belfast. In an interview with the BBC, he previously described the deal reached on Monday as a “huge step forward” which he said would strengthen the unity of the United Kingdom and the voice of Northern Ireland's lawmakers. “That's a huge, incredibly powerful achievement and I hope people see that,” Sunak added.
Northern Ireland would remain part of the EU's single market under the newly revealed post-Brexit arrangement, but goods imported into the region from the rest of Britain would no longer be subject to almost any controls if there was no threat of their subsequent export across an open border to Ireland. At the same time, the Northern Ireland parliament would be given the opportunity under certain conditions to block new EU regulations that should apply to the territory.
Mr Sunak said today that the regime would make Northern Ireland “the most interesting economic zone in the world” as it would have access to both the UK and EU markets. “Nobody else has it,” he declared. Many commentators have pointed out that before Britain left the EU, not only Northern Ireland, but the whole of the United Kingdom was in this position.
In addition to breaking down trade barriers within Britain, a fundamental goal of the new agreement is also to end the political crisis in Northern Ireland, which it has been without a government and a functional parliament for a year. The reason is the position of the DUP, which is the strongest party from the so-called unionist camp and without whose participation regional self-government cannot function. The party is boycotting it due to disagreement with the current rules introduced after Brexit.
The DUP said on Monday after the new regime was announced that it needed time to study the deal and form a position. It continued its cautious stance today, with chairman Jeffrey Donaldson saying the party would “take its time” with consultations on the issue. The British media reports that Donaldson is more moderate on this matter, while one of the DUP MPs has already made it known that he does not think the new agreement is sufficient.
In addition to the DUP, Sunak is also trying to get as many MPs from of the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party. The negotiated changes in Northern Ireland would pass the lower house of the British Parliament even without their support, as the opposition Labor Party and the Liberal Democrats are preparing to vote for them, but Sunak wants to avoid a significant rebellion in his own party.
“Another, key the stage of the process will be a game of details, numbers and political pressure,” Bloomberg writes in today's analysis. According to Sky News reporter Beth Rigby, Sunak has apparently succeeded in negotiations with the EU, but now he has to get “a much more unpleasant player”. “And the outcome is still far from certain,” she wrote.