(CNN) — Britain and the European Union have reached an agreement on new trade rules in Northern Ireland in an attempt to resolve a thorny issue that has fueled post-Brexit tensions in Europe and on the island of Ireland.
The deal could solve the problem of imports and border checks in Northern Ireland, one of the most challenging and contentious aspects of the UK’s exit from the European Union.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told a news conference in Windsor, just outside London, that the new deal, called the Windsor Framework, would provide “smooth-flowing trade” within the United Kingdom and that it would “protect Northern Ireland’s place” in the kingdom. the United States and “maintain” the sovereignty of Northern Ireland.
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, acknowledged the strained relations between the United Kingdom and the European Union since Brexit. In order for both parties to “get the most out of our partnership,” she said, new solutions are needed. She noted UK and EU cooperation on Ukraine and that “we need to listen to each other’s concerns very carefully”.
Von der Leyen arrived in the UK on Monday for final talks with Sunak, ahead of a statement on the deal in the House of Commons. And Buckingham Palace confirmed that von der Leyen will also meet King Charles III for tea at Windsor Castle.
Negotiations have intensified in recent weeks, after months of deadlock over how to handle controls in Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom but shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state.
Now that the deal is in place, Sunak is facing a political backlash from the Eurosceptic in his conservative party.
The new deal would update the arrangement known as the Northern Ireland Protocol, which was signed with Brussels by former prime minister Boris Johnson and which attempted to recognize the delicate situation Brexit created in Northern Ireland.
A border between an EU member state and a country outside the EU, such as the UK, usually requires infrastructure such as customs posts. But during a period of sectarian conflict known as the Troubles, security posts along the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland became a target for paramilitary groups fighting for a united Ireland.
In theory, the Northern Ireland Protocol was intended to eliminate the need for border infrastructure. It was agreed that Northern Ireland would remain within the EU’s regulatory scope, and that goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain would be screened before they arrived – effectively imposing a sea border.
This angered the pro-British Unionist community in Northern Ireland, who argued that it was cut off from the rest of the United Kingdom and forced closer to the Republic. Disagreements over the arrangements were, in part, an impediment to restoring the Northern Ireland Assembly, which has been suspended since 2017. Power-sharing between Unionists and Republicans is a key part of the Good Friday Agreement – the peace agreement that put an end to the Troubles.
The dispute also affected trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland to such an extent that the United Kingdom did not fully implement the Protocol.
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