“Has Rishi achieved the impossible? “, wondered this Tuesday, February 28 the very conservative and populist Daily Mail, the day after the signing, with the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, of the “Windsor Framework”, a more romantic name for the “Northern Irish protocol “, Monday, February 27. An agreement supposed to put an end to the blocking of relations between London and Brussels, about customs regulations in Northern Ireland.
The whole of the British press is surprised by the tour de force. The Times sees it as “a breakthrough in Brexit” which allows Rishi Sunak to say that the United Kingdom has “taken back control”. More soberly, the Guardian, a left-wing daily, reports that the Prime Minister “welcomes a ‘new chapter’ in relations with the EU”.
This success is only a first round. The “Windsor Framework” still has to pass the course of Parliament, where the text will have to be voted on, and for that to convince the fiercest of the brexitors of the right wing of the conservatives as well as the unionists of the DUP. Tuesday, February 28, Rishi Sunak was in Belfast to ensure that “it is not necessarily about (him) or a political party… it is about what is best for people and communities”.
Erasing Brexit tensions
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson hinted at hope: the new deal addresses “some of the concerns”, but “there remain issues that we continue to discuss with the government and we will take our time” to study it.
The “Windsor Framework” must erase years of tensions between the EU and the United Kingdom since Brexit, and allow more fluid trade with the province than the old Northern Irish protocol, negotiated in 2020 by Boris Johnson. Broadly, the new agreement opens up two lanes: a green one for Northern Ireland only, and a red one for products destined for both the EU and the Republic of Ireland. The single European market would thus be secure.
For Rishi Sunak, above all pragmatic, to end up on a subject that poisons London’s relations with its former European partners is a step forward. While his country is going through a major economic crisis, the British government not only needs to reconnect with the EU, but also with the United States, with which the conclusion of a trade agreement remains suspended until the resolution of this northern file -Irish.
If the sky clears by March 10, Rishi Sunak could cross the Channel to Paris, crowned with his success, for a Franco-British summit (the last one took place in 2018) intended, among other things, to turn the page on Brexit resentment.