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Von der Leyen to meet Sunak with Brexit deal announcement imminent

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, will meet Rishi Sunak in London on Monday - Johanna Geron/Reuters

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, will meet Rishi Sunak in London on Monday – Johanna Geron/Reuters

An announcement on a new Brexit deal between the EU and UK on Northern Ireland trading arrangements is expected on Sunday.

Sources indicated that an announcement was imminent after weeks of talks between the EU and Britain, with full details expected to be unveiled on Monday, when Tory and Labor MPs have been ordered by their whips to be in Parliament.

In the latest sign that a deal is imminent, it was announced on Sunday that Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, will meet Rishi Sunak in London on Monday.

A joint EU-Number 10 readout from their call on Sunday said the two “agreed to continue their work in person towards shared, practical solutions for the range of complex challenges around the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland”.

It came after Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary, told broadcasters on Sunday that Rishi Sunak was “on the cusp” of securing new Brexit terms with the EU.

But in a move that could inflame Eurosceptic critics, Mr Raab declined to give a guarantee that there would be a vote on Mr. Sunak’s deal, which is expected to be unveiled as early as Monday. Speaking to Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday program, he would only say: “Parliament will find a way to have its say.”

Repeatedly asked whether there will be a vote, he said: “I want to give you a sense of the direction of travel. But, of course, we’ve got to get the deal at international level signed and agreed, and make sure that the arrangements that underpin it, and to the extent that they will require legislation, they would have to get through the House of Commons .

“We want to handle this properly and in the right way. I think one thing we’ve learned with meaningful votes and various other things since 2016 and beyond is that you have to carry Parliament with you, and I’m confident we would be able to.”

It came as Mark Francois, the chairman of the European Research Group (ERG), told the same program: “For the Government to try to bludgeon this through the Commons without a vote … would be incredibly unwise.”

A key flashpoint will be the continued role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) as the final arbiter over the operation of EU laws in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Raab insisted the Prime Minister’s deal would substantially scale back the role of the ECJ in Northern Ireland, although it would not be abandoned as leading Brexiteers and the Democratic Unionist Party have urged.

The Deputy Prime Minister indicated that, under the deal, goods coming from the UK into Northern Ireland would not undergo regulatory checks, while goods destined for the Republic of Ireland would go through a red lane.

This would be policed ​​by giving the EU live access to a database of consignments, which Mr. Raab described as “market surveillance” replacing physical checks.

“If we can scale back some of the regulatory checks that apply and some of the paperwork that applies that would in itself involve a significant substantial scaling back with the role of the ECJ,” he said.

Mr. Raab also appeared to confirm suggestions that Mr. Sunak has negotiated a means by which the Northern Ireland Assembly in Belfast will be given pre-legislative scrutiny of new EU laws so that they can be disapplied if necessary.

He said the UK Government was looking for a “democratic arrangement” whereby the Stormont Assembly would have the “last word” on new EU rules.

“We need to make sure that if there are any new rules in the future there’s a proper democratic check and a proper democratic check coming out of the institutions in Stormont,” he added.

On Sunday, it appeared unlikely this proposal will, however, satisfy the ERG and the DUPwho have called for Northern Ireland to be freed from EU laws.

Mr. Francois said: “Less of a role is not enough. Just putting a couple of intermediate phases in but in a situation where you still end up with the European Court of Justice is effectively sophistry. I mean, you’re not stupid.

“What we want is a situation where EU law is expunged from Northern Ireland so it is treated on the same basis as England, Scotland and Wales.”

Asked whether he would therefore not back any deal if the ECJ has any role in it, he said: “We have left the European Union. It doesn’t have that role now in England or in Scotland or in Wales.

“So if we’re going to treat Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom, then we have to get rid of the EU law in Northern Ireland. We’ve been absolutely consistent on this.”

Confirming that the deal is close to being announced, Mr Raab said it could be delivered within “days, not weeks”. “We’ve clearly made some progress in recent weeks and days, and it is really important to get this fixed,” he added.

“I think there is real progress. We want to make sure all the pieces are in place. But I think, hopefully, there will be good news in a matter of days, not weeks.”

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