A meeting between King Charles and EU president Ursula von de Leyen has been cancelled at the last minute amid a flurry of media reports that Rishi Sunak is on the verge of striking a new Brexit deal.
Fuelling speculation is news that Downing Street has issued a three-line whip to Conservative MPs to attend parliament on Monday while cabinet ministers have been put on alert to receive a conference call, according to the Times.
Number 10 said “intensive talks” between the UK and EU on finding a solution to the Northern Ireland protocol – and restoration of power-sharing at Stormont – are progressing.
The prime minister is expected to meet with the EU president on Saturday (Feb 25).
Hopes were raised last week of a new Brexit deal when Sunak travelled to Belfast to hold meetings with leaders of the main political parties. Discontent – led by the DUP – over the future role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) emerged as the new main stumbling block to a deal, after it appeared agreement had been reached to reduce checks on goods travelling from GB to NI.
The DUP and their supporters in the Conservative party want no role for the ECJ in Northern Ireland on the grounds of sovereignty. Sir Keir Starmer has challenged Sunak to stand up to what he called the right-wing “rump” of the Tory party and has pledged Labour’s support fto vote through a deal fixing the NI protocol.
King ‘lined-up’ by Number 10
News that King Charles was also due to meet with von der Leyen on Saturday has caused fresh controversy and new reason for disgruntlement among members of the DUP and ERG (European Research Group) Tories.
Palace sources claim the meeting was cancelled for “operational reasons”, according to the Independent, but that has not placated critics who say the meeting was a government attempt to politicise the monarchy.
Sky News deputy political editor Sam Coates said the King’s meeting with the EU president ”was lined up by Number 10… just as highly contentious negotiations over the Northern Ireland Protocol were poised to come to a head”.
This “could have been interpreted” as the King “giving his blessing to the negotiations at the late stage or even endorsing the deal altogether”, said Coates, adding: “At one stage some discussed calling the deal the Windsor Agreement, lending an air of royal authority to it.”
Replying, the former deputy leader of the DUP Lord (Nigel) Dodds tweeted: “To plan for politicising the monarchy in this way is very serious and reinforces the questions about No 10’s political judgment over the Protocol”.
Arch-Brexiter Jacob Rees-Mogg told the Independent that the government “would not normally call upon the sovereign to advance a particular policy aim that is controversial within British politics. So I think it’s very much on the borderline of constitutional propriety.”