- Ioan Wells, Chris Mason & Jessica Parker
- BBC Politics
Rishi Sunak is set to hold face-to-face talks with the European Commission chief as he tries to secure a new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland.
The prime minister and Ursula van der Leyen said on Monday they would discuss a “range of complex challenges” surrounding the Northern Ireland protocol.
The UK wants to change the protocol, which checks certain goods when entering from other parts of the UK.
Dominic Raab previously said Britain and the EU were “on the cusp” of a deal.
Mr Sunak and Ms van der Leyen said in a joint statement released by Downing Street on Sunday: “Today, the President of the European Commission, Ursula van der Leyen, and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Rishi Sunak, agreed to continue their work towards shared, practical solutions to the complex challenges surrounding the protocol in Ireland and the North of Ireland.”
A deal has been expected for days, with recent talks focusing on its presentation and delivery.
The government has not confirmed whether MPs will vote on any deal, but said they will be able to “express” their views, and both Tory and Labor MPs have been told by their respective whips to come to parliament on Monday.
Deputy Prime Minister Mr Raab earlier told the BBC the government had made “huge progress” in negotiations with the EU, adding: “We’re not there yet, but it will be a very important deal…
“I think it will represent a paradigm shift for communities in Northern Ireland first, but I think it will be a significant achievement.”
The protocol, signed by Boris Johnson in 2020, means that Northern Ireland will continue to follow certain EU laws, allowing goods to pass freely across the border into the Irish Republic without checks.
Under the terms of the Protocol, Northern Ireland continued to adopt certain EU laws to require checks at the UK’s border with the Republic of Ireland.
Currently, goods are checked at ports in Northern Ireland when arriving from England, Scotland or Wales. Once those trials are completed they can be transferred to the Republic of Ireland.
The new scheme will split cargo into two different routes. Those traveling only to Northern Ireland will travel on the green lane and those traveling to the Republic of Ireland and the EU will travel on the red lane and will not be checked when checks are carried out.
What is the Northern Ireland Code?
The Northern Ireland Protocol is a trade arrangement negotiated during the Brexit negotiations. This allows goods to be transported across the Irish land border without the need for checks.
Before Brexit, moving goods across this border was easier as both sides followed the same EU rules. After the UK left, special trade arrangements were required as Northern Ireland shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland, which is part of the EU.
The European Union has strict food rules and requires border checks when certain products such as milk and eggs arrive from non-EU countries.
Land borders are an important issue because of Northern Ireland’s complicated political history. It was feared that cameras or border registrations – as part of these checks – would lead to instability.
The UK and the EU have agreed that preserving Northern Ireland’s peace deal – the Good Friday Agreement – is an absolute priority.
Therefore, both parties signed the Northern Ireland Protocol as part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
It is now part of international law.
Disagreements over protocol have halted the functioning of the Northern Ireland legislature.
Mr Sunack has been trying to get the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to agree to a deal that currently prevents the party from forming a devolved government in Northern Ireland.
There are no new tests on goods traded between GB and Northern Ireland, but they have set out seven tests that must be passed if they are to support any deal, including essentially no border in the Irish Sea.
DUP leader Sir Geoffrey Donaldson told the BBC: “The aim for London and Brussels should be to fix this rather than rush it. A flawed deal will not restore devolution but will deepen the divide for future generations.”