December 10, 2023

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Silent Opposition: Britain’s Sunak wins Parliament after Brexit

  • Parliament approves Stormont brakes
  • DUP, some Brexiteers are voting against it
  • The government is urging lawmakers to move forward

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak won parliament’s support on Wednesday for a key element of a rewritten post-Brexit deal on Northern Ireland, despite opposition from the region’s largest union party and some of its own lawmakers.

Sunak has tried to end years of debate over Brexit by revisiting one of the most difficult parts of the negotiations – ensuring smooth trade with Northern Ireland without creating a hard border with Britain or EU member Ireland.

He agreed with the EU to introduce a “Stormont brake”, which aims to give Northern Ireland more control over whether it accepts any new EU laws, as part of the so-called Windsor Framework.

But in Wednesday’s vote in the lower house of Parliament, those he wanted to win – Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), some conservative Eurosceptics in the European Research Group (ERG), and two of his predecessors, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss – rebelled. By voting against the brakes.

Despite the opposition, Sunak won the vote by 515 votes to 29, managing to contain the scale of the rebellion but with a large number of conservative abstentions. Opposition parties voted for the brakes.

Sunak’s ministers welcomed the vote.

“I welcome Parliament’s vote today in support of the Windsor Framework,” Northern Ireland Minister Chris Heaton Harris said on Twitter.

“This measure is at the heart of the Windsor framework which delivers the best deal for Northern Ireland, preserves its place in the Union and addresses the democratic deficit.”

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The brakes enable Britain to prevent new EU laws from being applied to goods in Northern Ireland if asked to do so by a third of lawmakers in the province’s devolved legislature.

The ERG called the measure “practically useless” and the DUP complains that it does not apply to existing EU law.

“Brake without brake pads”

The new agreement was hammered out by Snack, in office since October, after Johnson’s previous government threatened to back out of the original deal it struck with the EU.

A hard border could jeopardize the Good Friday Agreement that largely ended three decades of armed conflict in Northern Ireland that involved militants seeking a united Ireland, “Loyalists” wishing to remain part of the United Kingdom, and British security forces.

The United States said any threats to the deal could hurt the possibility of trade between the United States and Britain.

Sunak hailed securing the deal last month as a “crucial breakthrough” but failed to restore Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government by alienating the DUP.

The DUP, at odds with opinion polls showing 45% of voters in the province back the framework against 17% against, said the brakes do little to ease its concerns about post-Brexit trading arrangements, saying it has not dealt with the basics. The issue – enforcement of EU law.

DUB leader Geoffrey Donaldson told parliament his party could not return to a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland “at this point”.

Earlier, Marc Fran├žois, the group’s chairman, told reporters that the group had recommended its members vote against the government to show their discontent with what he described as an “oversold” agreement that was “brake without brake pads”.

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Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper, Kaylee McClellan, William James and Sarah Young, Additional reporting by Amanda Ferguson in Belfast, Editing by William McLean, Angus McSwan and Jonathan Otis

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