24th Mar 2023 13:06
(Alliance News) - UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's Brexit deal for Northern Ireland has been formally signed off at an official meeting in London, as both the UK and the EU hope for better relations in the future.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and the European Commission's Maros Sefcovic chaired a meeting on Friday to formally adopt the new arrangements for Northern Ireland, after the government won the backing of MPs for the Windsor framework earlier this week.
The vote by MPs in favour of regulations to implement the Stormont brake, a key part of the Windsor agreement, came despite former prime ministers 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 is understood to have happened mid-morning on Friday, comes as Jeffrey Donaldson's party continues to oppose the deal brokered by the government, with no sign of the DUP yet being willing to return to power-sharing.
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris warned the DUP that there was no prospect of renegotiating the deal ahead of Friday's meeting, which comes after Brussels also formally agreed to the key parts of the Windsor framework at a Council of the EU meeting.
The formal sign-off happened at a meeting of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee, with the foreign secretary and Sefcovic also due to attend a meeting of the Partnership Council – another of the implementation bodies under the Brexit deal.
"By formally approving the Windsor framework, we are delivering on our commitment to provide stability and certainty for Northern Ireland," Cleverly said ahead of the meeting.
"The framework is the best deal for Northern Ireland, safeguarding its place in the Union and protecting the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.
"I look forward to further effective co-operation with the EU on key issues, such as security and energy."
The UK hopes that the new deal on the protocol can mark a step towards British participation in the EU's EUR100 billion Horizon programme, with science and research likely to feature in official discussions between the pair.
Cleverly and Sefcovic will also discuss a recent agreement between the UK, Ireland and the EU on Peace Plus, the cross-border peace funding programme.
The continuing stand-off at Stormont suggests the prospects for a return to power-sharing in time for the 25th anniversary next month of the Good Friday agreement remain bleak.
The executive and the Assembly have been suspended since the DUP walked out last year in protest at the way the Northern Ireland protocol negotiated by Johnson was operating.
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