Biden visit will not ‘bounce’ Brexiteers into compromise, Sunak told

Donaldson discusses meeting with PM in February

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Rishi Sunak has been warned any attempts to “bounce” Brexiteers into a compromise when it comes to the Northern Ireland Protocol are doomed to fail. And Tory MP David Jones has suggested the Government is “rushing” to resolve the situation in advance of US President Joe Biden’s visit in April.

Unionists are believed to be underwhelmed by the proposals outlined by Mr Sunak yesterday when he visited Northern Ireland.

The Protocol is the mechanism agreed by the UK and the EU with the intention of preventing a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Critics within the Unionist community claim it has has resulted in a border down the Irish Sea by keeping Northern Ireland aligned with some EU rules – and, crucially, under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

During his trip, Mr Sunak held lengthy talks with political leaders aimed at breaking the deadlock – but afterwards DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson warned what was being suggested “fell short” of offering the kind of changes his party could accept.

Mr Biden is due to visit Northern Ireland to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement on April 10 – and the Government is widely believed to want it wrapped up by then.

Mr Jones, the deputy leader of the European Research Group and the MP for Clwyd West, told “I think Biden’s visit is the reason for all the rush so far. Americans are desperate to see the institutions restored.”

However, he added: “I can’t see that happening, given the DUP’s stance.” Asked whether Unionists would be “bounced” by Mr Biden’s arrival into a climb-down, he added: “They will certainly not.”

Mr Jones outlined his concerns in an op-ed written for and published on Friday.

In it, he says: “Rishi Sunak has the power to stop that from happening. He can reject the EU’s proposals.

“He can insist that Northern Ireland should cease to be subject to EU law and that, consequently, the role of the ECJ should end. He can point out that it is highly anomalous for any democratic state to be subject to the laws of a foreign government and the jurisdiction of a foreign court.

“And he can make clear that if the EU doesn’t agree, he will press on with the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.”

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Mr Jones concludes: “This is the time for Rishi Sunak to show the steel and resolve needed to restore sovereignty in the whole of the United Kingdom. It is his moment. And he must seize it.”

Former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib was not optimistic when questioned by about the possibility of progress.

He said: “Rishi is only testing the water and being seen to do something.

“He didn’t provide any detail in Belfast. My own guess is he will play this long.

“If he comes out with a definitive deal he would be shot down on all sides. Nothing will please anyone. So he will keep talking the talk but do nothing. The Protocol will be allowed to fester.”

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Questioned after yesterday’s talks, Mr Sunak said: “There’s more work to do and that’s why my ministerial colleagues and I will continue talking to the EU intensely to find solutions.

“The test I’ve set myself is that we protect Northern Ireland’s place in our internal market, protect the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, resolve the practical issues the Protocol is causing families and businesses and, crucially, address the democratic deficit.

“Those are the issues that we need to work through. We have not got a deal yet.”

On arrival in Germany for the Munich Security Conference, he admitted: “There are still challenges to work through. We have not resolved all these issues. No, there isn’t a deal that has been done, there is an understanding of what needs to be done.”

Also speaking after yesterday’s meeting, Mr Donaldson was less upbeat, saying: “We have not seen the final text. Based on discussions, it is our view that there remain significant areas for further work to be completed.

“Progress has been made in some areas and while that is welcome, in other key areas it currently falls short of what would be acceptable and required to meet our tests as set out.”

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