DUP dash hopes for Sunak’s Brexit deal while Tory rebels stir

#Brexit special section Beyond England Policy & Politics

Rishi Sunak’s attempts to strike a Brexit deal look set to fail with the DUP warning it “falls short” of what is acceptable and rebel Conservative MPs standing firm with the unionists over the role of the European Court of Justice.

Sunak himself admitted there is still “work to do” and is engaged in what the Guardian calls “a weekend of frantic diplomacy” to try and break the Brexit deadlock over the Northern Ireland protocol.

The Telegraph reports Sunak – who spent Friday (Feb 16) holding talk with political leaders in Belfast – is trying to get an agreement to present to parliament on Tuesday.

However, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said after his meeting with Sunak that the PM’s proposal “currently falls short of what would be acceptable”.

DUP allies, the European Research Group (ERG) of Eurosceptic Conservative MPs has said it will remain in “lockstep” with Donaldson’s unionists and reiterated demands for the European Court of Justice  (ECJ) to have no jurisdiction in Northern Ireland.

ERG deputy chairman David Jones said he is waiting for the details of Sunak’s deal before deciding “whether or not whatever deal is proposed is acceptable, not only to the people of Northern Ireland, but the people of the UK as a whole”.

Sunak said he will re-engage with EU leaders to garner more concessions on the role of the ECJ. He will be at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday (Feb 17) where he is set to hold sideline talks with the European Commission, Germany and France over the role of the European court.

US president Joe Biden is set to visit Belfast in April for the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) – a date providing impetus for the UK and EU to reach a deal over the Northern Ireland protocol.

That has proved a huge stumbling block in negotiations for the past two years, as well as being the reason cited by the DUP for collapsing the power sharing agreement at Stormont.

The protocol was negotiated by the UK government as part Boris Johnson and Lord David Frost’s Brexit deal. It was introduced to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland, thereby protecting the GFA. Instead the custom checks are on trade between NI and GB.

Progress is believed to have been made in this area, with almost all goods going from GB to NI being eligible to go through the “green lane” and thereby subject to minimal checks.

But little progress has been made on the role of the ECJ. Unionists and ERG Tories baulk at the possibility that the European Court of Justice could have any jurisdiction over any part of the UK.

Donaldson refers EU rules being enforced in NI as the “democratic deficit” given they have no say on how they are made or enforced.

A DUP source, quoted by the Telegraph said they “can’t see any way” that the party could agree to a deal that does not end “the direct application of EU law overseen by a foreign court”.

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