Starmer confirms Labour will back Sunak’s Northern Ireland deal

Katie Neame
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Keir Starmer has confirmed that Labour will support and vote for Rishi Sunak’s deal to end the dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol and declared that the agreement “will allow us to move forward as a country”.

Rishi Sunak said today a “decisive breakthrough” had been made in talks on the post-Brexit trading arrangement, during a joint press conference with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

The Prime Minister announced a new “Windsor framework” that will create a green lane for goods travelling from Britain to Northern Ireland and a separate red lane for goods that may move onto the EU.

The Northern Ireland protocol has been amended to ensure that the UK government’s decisions on VAT and excise will also be implemented in Northern Ireland, where previously the region had to follow single market rules.

Sunak said the framework will mean pets are allowed to travel more easily from Britain to Northern Ireland and the supply of medicines will be made simpler.

The Prime Minister also announced plans for a “Stormont brake” that will allow the Northern Ireland assembly to stop new EU single market rules from applying in the country. The brake cannot be used for “trivial reasons” and will be reserved for “significantly different” rules.

Addressing the Commons this evening following a statement by Sunak on the deal, Starmer said: “I have been clear for some time that if the Prime Minister were to get an agreement with the EU and if that agreement is in the interests of this country and Northern Ireland, then Labour would support it.

“And we will stick to our word. We will not snipe. We will not seek to play political games. And when the Prime Minister puts this deal forward for a vote, Labour will support it and vote for it.”

The Labour leader said: “The protocol will continue to ensure there is no physical border on the island of Ireland. That is essential. We all know that any physical border would be a source of tension, a physical manifestation of new barriers between communities in Northern Ireland and the economic life in the Republic.

“This agreement will allow us to move forward as a country, rather than be locked in endless disputes with our allies. It will improve our diplomatic standing, which has been damaged by the government’s previous threats to break international law.  And I am encouraged that the DUP has said it will look carefully at the measures.”

But the Labour leader stressed that the deal “comes with trade-offs” and accused Sunak’s predecessor as Prime Minister Boris Johnson of a “point-blank refusal to engage with unionists in Northern Ireland in good faith, never mind take their concerns seriously”.

Starmer said: “I urge the Prime Minister to be utterly unlike his predecessor. Do not pretend the deal is something it is not. Where there are trade-offs to be made, argue the case for them. Treat unionists with the respect of frank honesty, not the contempt of bluster.”

Starmer argued that the deal is “not perfect” but added that Labour would support it because the party recognises that the UK “agreed to the protocol and has an obligation to make it work”, that there will “inevitably be trade-offs” for the protocol to function and that “peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland is hard won”.

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