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UK, EU announce Brexit deal, but Sunak faces tough sell

The political skills of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will be tested this week when he tries to get through Parliament a new Brexit deal to settle lingering questions over the future of the EU's legal regime in Northern Ireland.

(CN) — British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced a new deal on Monday to settle thorny trade questions over Northern Ireland in the wake of Brexit.

Sunak, though, faces opposition to the deal from hardcore pro-Brexit members of his own Conservative Party and from the Democratic Unionist Party, a right-wing Northern Irish party allied to the Tories.

Since the 2016 Brexit referendum in which a majority of British voters chose to leave the European Union, Northern Ireland has proven to be one of the most difficult problems to deal with because of the country's close ties and open border with Ireland, which is inside the EU's legal regime. Keeping the border free of customs checks is considered vital to maintaining stability and peace in Northern Ireland, a region scarred by decades of sectarian conflict.

A main sticking point has been over whether EU laws and rules should govern in Northern Ireland, a condition that allows the Irish border to stay open and trade to flow between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

But Brexiteers and the DUP have sought to ensure a complete break with the EU and its laws and they are expected to put up resistance to Sunak's new EU deal because it envisions allowing some EU laws and rules to govern in Northern Ireland.

However, under the new deal there is a provision that allows Northern Ireland's parliament, commonly called Stormont, to ask the British government to veto EU laws it doesn't like. Sunak called this measure the “Stormont brake.”

“Today’s agreement is about preserving that delicate balance and charting a new way forward for the people of Northern Ireland,” Sunak said at a news conference in London alongside von der Leyen.

He said there was “a clear process through which the democratically elected assembly can pull an emergency brake.”

Still, it remained far from certain that Sunak's deal will pass muster with his party, which is facing new elections next year amid declining poll numbers.

Dealing with the thorny issues surrounding Northern Ireland following the U.K.'s withdrawal from the EU proved to be the downfall of former British Prime Minister Theresa May. May tried to pass a Brexit deal that would have kept Britain close to the EU, a strategy that forced her to resign after she met fierce opposition led by Boris Johnson, who ended up taking over at Downing Street.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

Categories: Government International Politics

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