A unionist “veto” over EU laws in Northern Ireland was at the centre of Rishi Sunak’s attempts to sell his Brexit deal to resolve trade issues in the region.

But the so-called Stormont Brake has strings attached – including tough conditions for its use and the possibility of the EU retaliating by suspending single market access.

The Prime Minister will nevertheless be hoping it will be enough to persuade the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to drop its boycott of Stormont powersharing over the Northern Ireland Protocol – now renamed the Windsor Framework under the terms of the deal.

There were also significant wins as Mr Sunak on customs red tape and the disapplication of EU law.

Here’s what the deal said:

Stormont Brake

A brand-new procedure would give unionists like the DUP a “veto” over Brussels changing EU laws that apply in Northern Ireland – necessary to maintain a soft border with the Republic – without local consent.

The Brake will allow 30 MLAs from two or more parties in the Stormont Assembly to object and effectively suspend the rule change from coming into effect.

It can only then be applied if the UK and EU agree jointly, giving Westminster a veto over new EU laws applying in Northern Ireland.

However, the Brake can only be applied in exceptional circumstances as a measure of last resort if MLAs can show the EU law in question would have a “significant impact specific to everyday life”.

If the veto is exercised by the UK, the EU will also be able to retaliate with countermeasures, such as suspending Northern Ireland’s access to the single market in the area affected, although both sides insist this will not see a return to a hard border on the island of Ireland.

If a dispute then continues, the case will however not be referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and will instead go to international arbitration. The ECJ will however rule in dispute on EU law that already apply in the region.

The DUP’s support of the overall deal is likely to hinge on whether they think the Brake gives Northern Ireland a strong enough role in overseeing EU law that applies in the region.

An end to ‘sausage wars’

Mr Sunak secured agreement to disapply a range of EU laws in areas that unionists argued damaged Northern Ireland’s place in the union.

It means bans on the movement of sausages, seed potatoes and trees from the UK mainland to Northern Ireland will end, while Westminster’s VAT incentives and changes to alcohol duty will now be able to apply in the region as they do in the rest of the UK.

Medicines will be available on the same basis in Northern Ireland as across the UK, meaning pharmacists and supermarkets in the region will be able to stock exactly the same products.

These EU concessions go further than many were expecting.

Red and green lanes

In a long-expected move, customs procedures have been eased so that products from Great Britain that will only be sold in Northern Ireland do not have to undergo physical checks when crossing the Irish Sea, allowing Mr Sunak to argue that the “Irish Sea Border” is gone.

But the DUP will be looking closely at whether there is still too much red tape to make British businesses think twice about selling their products in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland Protocol Bill

As part of the Windsor Framework, Mr Sunak is dumping Boris Johnson’s controversial legislation to override post-Brexit rules on Northern Ireland.

Brussels agreed in turn that it will scrap its legal action against the UK, launched in retaliation over the former prime minister’s Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.

Mr Sunak confirmed the move and told MPs that his new deal “puts beyond all doubt that we’ve now taken back control”, echoing Mr Johnson’s slogan.

Mr Johnson had been warning his successor that scrapping the legislation would be a “great mistake”. But Mr Sunak said the new agreement means there is no longer legal justification for the Bill.

What happens next with Rishi Sunak’s Brexit deal? 

The Windsor Framework is only an “agreement in principle” and will need to be put into legislation and voted on by MPs to be fully ratified.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic will engage in further talks over the coming weeks by which stage the full legal text will be agreed. 

What does this mean for the Northern Ireland Protocol? 

The agreement famously struck by Boris Johnson in 2019 will essentially be overwritten and renamed as the Windsor Framework if it is ratified by MPs, meaning the Protocol will cease to exist in its current state.  

What will Tory Brexiteers do? 

The European Research Group of Conservative MPs will hold what they call their “star chamber” of solicitors, who will pore over the legal text of the deal line by line. It will only be after this has been carried out that the caucus of right-wing MPs will decide on whether to back the new deal or not.

However, the group is by no means as disciplined as it was during Theresa May’s tenure, while its former chair, the Northern Ireland Minister Steve Baker, has come out in full support of the agreement. 

What about the DUP?

This is by far the most challenging aspect facing Mr Sunak in his bid to push through the framework and restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland. The biggest unionist party in the region has issued what is effectively a holding statement while they study the text in fine detail. But already senior figures within the party have voiced their opposition to the new deal. 

What would happen if the DUP and Tory Brexiteers reject it outright?

Ultimately, Mr Sunak would be able to push through the deal in the Commons with the support of the majority of his MPs as well as Labour votes, but it would leave Stormont without an executive and a large rump of his own party on the warpath.

Pressing ahead with the framework without the support of either party would leave him in a precarious position and will be a significant test of his authority. Should he face them down and win, he will have bolstered his position ahead of the next election. If he folds then his opponents could see it as an opportunity to force him out.

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