Rishi Sunak’s Brexit deal for Northern Ireland has been formally signed off at a meeting in London, as both the UK and the EU hope for better relations.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and the European Commission’s Maros Sefcovic chaired a meeting on Friday to adopt the new arrangements for Northern Ireland, after the Government won the backing of MPs for the Windsor Framework earlier this week.
Mr Sefcovic hailed it as an agreement that would deliver “lasting certainty” for people in Northern Ireland while promising that London and Brussels would “exploit the full potential” of the wider trade deal.
Both sides issued warm words following the meeting, with Mr Cleverly and Mr Sefcovic describing the “constructive atmosphere” after months of negotiations to reach the final deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Earlier this week, MPs voted in favour of regulations to implement the Stormont brake, a key part of the Windsor agreement, despite Boris Johnson and Liz Truss joining the Democratic Unionist Party and hardline Brexit-backing Tory MPs in voting against the deal.
The formal sign-off, which happened mid-morning on Friday, comes as Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s party continues to oppose the deal brokered by the Government, with no sign of the DUP being willing to return to powersharing.
The DUP, ahead of the meeting, had been warned that there was no prospect of renegotiating the deal.
In the joint statement, Mr Cleverly and Mr Sefovic stressed the benefits of the Windsor agreement, promising to “work together intensively and faithfully to implement all elements of the Windsor Framework”.
But the two sides also discussed issues that could have the potential to cause concern in European capitals and in Northern Ireland, with the UK Retained EU Law Bill and the Government’s controversial plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights raised at the second meeting.
Sources stressed that the EU did not raise concerns but instead had questions as part of broader discussions about the Windsor deal and other issues.
The UK hopes that the deal on the protocol can mark a step towards British participation in the EU’s 100 billion euro Horizon programme, with science and research likely to feature in official discussions between the pair.
The statement said that the UK and EU “noted the openness of both sides to take forward discussions on association in the coming weeks”.
“The European Commission and the Government of the United Kingdom reaffirmed their desire to exploit fully the potential of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, and maximise the potential of
the relationship between the EU and the UK in ways that benefit both parties,” the statement said.
The EU’s landmark Green Deal plan also came up for discussion, while officials also looked ahead to the signing of a memoranda of understanding on financial services and intellectual property “soon”.
“We’ve formally adopted the Windsor Framework,” Mr Cleverly said.
“This delivers on our commitment to the people of Northern Ireland. Great to see you in London,” tweeted to Mr Sefcovic.