If the Prime Minister does indeed think that Northern Ireland’s population can be distracted from hard politics by some royal stardust, he is surely deluded

February 27, 2023 9:55 pm(Updated 9:57 pm)

Rishi Sunak may just have pulled off the greatest coup of his short premiership so far.

Striking a deal with the EU which rewrites the legal text of the Northern Ireland Protocol and gives Stormont a veto over new laws coming from Brussels, while technical, is a genuine achievement which many thought could not be done.

But the coup is not complete; because the Prime Minister’s negotiations with his own party and the hardliners of the DUP could end up being trickier than those with the EU.

One part of Monday’s deal choreography may have made that harder rather than easier.

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The decision to ask the King to take a role in the day, by meeting Ursula von der Leyen at Windsor Castle shortly after her talks with Mr Sunak nearby risks looking like an attempt to exploit the cultural cachet of the Royal Family for political ends.

A number of key unionists, including former DUP leader Baroness Foster, were quick to express outrage at the move. If the Prime Minister does indeed think that Northern Ireland’s population can be distracted from hard politics by some royal stardust, he is surely deluded.

To be fair to Mr Sunak, this is hardly the first time that visiting foreign leaders have mixed their official business with a visit to the monarch. And it appears that it was Ms von der Leyen, a committed Anglophile, who requested the chat with His Majesty.

But the Prime Minister should realise that when it comes to as sensitive a topic as Northern Ireland’s place within the EU, even an accidental misstep could collapse months of hard work.

As he contemplates the prospect of a famous victory, he will have to avoid any further possibility of turning it into defeat.

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