Rishi Sunak began his statement on the new Brexit deal on Monday afternoon with a message of condolences. "Our thoughts are with Chief Inspector John Caldwell and his family," said the Premier. "Those who want to push us back in time will not succeed."
Caldwell was shot dead by ten gunshots while coaching a youth team, including his own son, on a football pitch in Omagh, Northern Ireland, on Wednesday. Shortly thereafter, extremists of the “New IRA” took responsibility for the attack. The 48-year-old police officer, who has led many high-level terrorism investigations, has been struggling for his life in a clinic ever since.
The terror that had overshadowed life in Northern Ireland for decades was suddenly back. A tragic reminder of the value and fragility of the peace brought to Britain and Ireland by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and subsequent dismantling of border controls. Which is why the agreement that London and Brussels signed on Monday after more than two years of dispute is so important.
"This agreement means a new chapter," said EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who had traveled to Windsor specifically to give the conclusion of years of negotiations the greatest possible external impact. She was later also by King Charles III. received at Windsor Castle.
For Sunak, the deal that will ease Brexit rules for Northern Ireland is a political poker game. A dispute is raging in his parliamentary group as to whether the prime minister should be allowed to make such far-reaching compromises with the EU. The central figure in the tensions within the faction is Boris Johnson. The ex-Prime Minister has harbored vengeance against Sunak since his ouster in July 2022, whose resignation as Chancellor of the Exchequer triggered Johnson's downfall at Downing Street.
According to British media, Johnson is working on a coup against Sunak. The plan: to gather enough MPs in the House of Commons to revolt against Sunak's deal. The Prime Minister has already promised that the "Windsor Framework Agreement" will be submitted to the Chamber for a vote. If there are enough pro-British unionists and hard Brexit supporters who vote against Sunak's contract, it would be a heavy blow for the head of government, who has been in office since the end of October.
The fate of the sixth prime minister attempting to manage Brexit is in doubt. Although it is unlikely that Sunak would lose a vote itself. The Labor Party has already announced that it will vote in favor of the Windsor agreement. But a substantial number of opponents in his own faction would make governing even more difficult for Sunak, who is burdened with multiple challenges - and significantly improve Boris Johnson's position as a possible savior of the Tories before the next election in 2024.
At the heart of the long dispute between Britain and the EU is the Northern Ireland Protocol, which regulates Ulster's post-Brexit status. Because the reconstruction of a border between EU member Ireland and British Northern Ireland was to be prevented at all costs, Northern Ireland remained part of the internal market for goods outside the EU.
This means that goods continue to enter the Republic of Ireland from north to south without controls. However, in order to protect the standards and rules of the European Economic Area, deliveries across the Irish Sea from Great Britain to Northern Ireland have had to be controlled since the beginning of 2021.
This angered pro-British Unionists, who felt excluded from the UK by these controls. Consumers in Northern Ireland suffered because consumer goods such as English sausages and Welsh flower bulbs could no longer be imported. Previously simple Amazon orders from England suddenly required complex customs declarations.
In addition, the Unionists do not want to accept that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) also has the last word in disputes relating to internal market issues in Northern Ireland and that Parliament in Belfast has to implement EU regulations that are made in Strasbourg without the Northern Irish MPs having a say.
The Unionists' protest has already had serious consequences: the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which emerged from the elections in May as the strongest pro-British party, has since refused to set up a new parliament. Government business has been silent since then. The pro-Irish Sinn Féin, which received the most votes in the election, cannot take its rightful seat of prime minister.
Von der Leyen and Sunak said that all concerns have now been addressed. This greatly simplifies the flow of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. Parliament in Belfast will have the right to veto new EU laws. And London is allowed to grant state aid to Northern Ireland, which Brussels had previously rejected for reasons of fair competition.
The pro-Irish Sinn Fein already pledged their support on Monday. "We are pleased that negotiations are over and that Northern Ireland can now reap the full benefits. We all have to work together now," said Chairwoman Michelle O'Neill. Whether that will happen is not in their hands, nor in that of Rishi Sunak or Ursula von der Leyen. Once again, the Brexit hardliners could make it difficult for the EU and the British to live together. Which ultimately benefits one: Boris Johnson.