British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Monday signed a new trade deal with the European Union designed to remedy problems caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Speaking shortly after the announcement, Sunak described the new agreement — known as the Windsor Framework — as “the beginning of a new chapter” for the relationship between the U.K. and the EU.
“I’m pleased to report that we have now made a decisive breakthrough,” Sunak said at a news conference in Windsor, just outside London.
“These negotiations have not always been easy,” he continued. “The U.K. and the EU may have had our differences in the past, but we are allies, trading partners and friends. This is the beginning of a new chapter in our relationship.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen added that the framework “respects and protects our respective markets and our respective legitimate interests. And, most importantly, it protects the very hard-earned peace gains of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.”
Exact details of the new arrangement were not immediately available, but the two leaders said the deal had three main components. Those include safeguarding trade flows within the U.K., protecting Northern Ireland’s place within the U.K., and giving the region’s assembly in Stormont say over new EU rules with the introduction of a “Stormont brake.”
Sterling hit a session high of $1.2051, up 0.9%, shortly after the announcement. The euro also rose 0.7% hit a session high of $1.0613. The FTSE 100 stock market index was up 60 points or 0.7% at 7934.
Sunak is due make a statement in Parliament at 1830 GMT. He said lawmakers would get to vote on the new agreement “at the appropriate time,” adding that vote will be “respected.”
A deal years in the making
The U.K. may have left the European Union on Jan. 31, 2020, but the Northern Ireland Protocol has sparked persistent disagreement ever since. This part of the Brexit deal mandates checks on some goods that travel to Northern Ireland from the rest of the U.K. — with the new negotiations aimed at easing these rules.
Unionist parties in Northern Ireland — which is part of the U.K, unlike its neighbor Ireland, which is part of the EU — have argued that the checks place an effective border in the Irish Sea. The Protocol has also been criticized for jeopardizing the Good Friday Agreement — a long-standing peace deal that brought an end to three decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.
Sunak’s government has sought amendments to the deal signed by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has led calls from the hardline Eurosceptic wing within the ruling Conservative Party to rip up the deal he himself negotiated.
Breaking from predecessors Johnson and Liz Truss, Sunak has taken a less combative approach to engagement with the EU in the hope of reaching a resolution on key issues surrounding Northern Ireland by easing checks on goods traveling across the Irish Sea.
However, he will need to convince his own party to vote for any prospective deal through parliament.
Meanwhile, the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly has been suspended since Feb. 2022 after the Democratic Unionist Party resigned in protest at the Northern Ireland Protocol. The loyalist party renewed warnings over the weekend that it would not be strong-armed into accepting a deal that did not meet its “red lines.”