In another not too distant time, the political scenario with which the United Kingdom woke up this Wednesday would have led us to predict, without assuming too much risk, that Rishi Sunak had his hours numbered. The two predecessors of the current prime minister, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, had announced that they would vote against the so-called Windsor Framework Agreement, the pact reached in February between London and Brussels to end the long and poisonous conflict over the Ireland Protocol. from North. Added to this rejection was one of the former leaders of the most popular Conservative Party in recent history, Ian Duncan-Smith, and a former Minister of the Interior who in her day delighted the hard wing of the tories, Priti Patel. The drums of war and internal rebellion, however, turned out to be louder than powerful. Only 22 of the 355 Conservative deputies have voted against the Government’s proposal, which has gone ahead with the majority support of the House of Commons (515 votes in favor against 29 rejections). Sunak has managed to put down the rebellion of the once all-powerful group of Eurosceptics and consolidate the unity of the party.
“All of us who have followed this matter very closely never thought that we would be debating a renegotiation of the treaty again. [del Brexit]. We must pay tribute to the Prime Minister and the members of the Government for having made it possible ”, summarized Julian Smith, himself head of the Ministry for Northern Ireland during the first years of Johnson’s term, in his speech. “As someone who has been slightly traumatized after all these years of voting on Brexit, I am delighted that this is the final chapter,” Smith congratulated himself.
Sunak promised his deputies that Parliament could have a say in the deal reached with the EU, even though it was not legally required to bring it before the House of Commons. The formula chosen by Downing Street has been to put the most relevant conquest to a vote: the so-called “Stormont brake”. By that name is known the Autonomous Assembly of Northern Ireland, in Belfast. Sunak’s team responded to one of the most relevant complaints from Northern Ireland unionism, which called for greater democratic participation of its representatives in EU decisions regarding that British territory.
The Irish Protocol, essential to carry out the Withdrawal Agreement of the EU from the United Kingdom, retained Northern Ireland within the internal market and the customs area of the Twenty-seven. In this way, it was a matter of avoiding the new imposition of a physical border between the two Irelands —the Republic, in the south of the island, is Community territory— that would revive the sectarian tension that ended the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The A new mechanism, the “Stormont brake”, allows, under the condition that 30 regional deputies and two parties request it, that the Assembly can stop the application in Northern Ireland of new EU laws that affect its internal market. It will then be up to the central government in London to invoke that provisional veto and negotiate with Brussels.
Johnson, who with great difficulty hides both his desire to return to the political front line and his rancor towards Sunak —he considers him the architect of his downfall— had announced his rejection of the agreement in the hours before the vote. “Treaty reforms would mean that Northern Ireland remained captured by the legal order of the EU, and increasingly distanced from the UK, or that the UK itself was unable to distance itself as a united bloc and took advantage of the advantages of Brexit”, explained the former prime minister in a public statement.
Johnson insisted on defending the law promoted by his Government, by which the United Kingdom tried to unilaterally eliminate essential parts of the Irish Protocol. That initiative unearthed the hatchet with Brussels. It was precisely Truss, then Foreign Minister, the main promoter of an initiative that fueled the possibility of a trade war with the EU. It is significant, however, that neither Johnson nor Truss nor the other notable rebels decided to participate in the House of Commons debate. The former prime minister was explaining to Parliament’s Committee on Privileges about the scandalous Downing Street parties during confinement. He had an excuse. The rest sensed that they were going to be left alone and avoided the limelight.
The Sunak government knew in advance that the text presented would go ahead without problems in the House of Commons. The Labor Party, the Scottish nationalists of the SNP and the Liberal Democrats had announced their support. The key was to see if the prime minister was able to maintain the closure of his own ranks. The magic figure was 35. Any attempt at rebellion among Conservative MPs above that figure would have been threatening to Sunak, because it would have meant that he had to essentially rely on the opposition to save his pact with the EU. In the end, only 22 tories They have voted against. Nothing to do with the eurosceptic figures that, in their day, shook other conservative governments, such as Theresa May’s.
The rejection of the DUP
Six of the eight Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MPs have voted against the “Stormont brake”. It had already been announced by its leader, Jeffrey Donaldson. Northern Ireland’s main unionist party continues to look askance at more radical political competitors, such as Traditional Unionist Voice, the party founded by Jim Allister. And it suffers from its own internal divisions. The son of the historic reverend Ian Paisley —who was able to sit down with the Sinn Féin republicans and sign peace—, Ian Paisley Jr., leads the frontal rejection of the Windsor Framework Agreement, and continues to accuse Johnson and the current government of have betrayed unionism.
“I am confident that we will continue working to make the necessary improvements [en el texto] that allow us to get the Home Rule Government of Northern Ireland up and running again”, Donaldson said in the parliamentary debate, trying to maintain an impossible balance between the radicals of his party and the hand extended by London. The DUP has used the excuse of its opposition to the Irish Protocol to keep the autonomous institutions of Northern Ireland blocked for more than a year. Next April 10 marks the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to that region. London, Dublin and Washington have lobbied the DUP hard to allow a return to normality. US President Joe Biden has announced his intention to visit the region on the occasion of the anniversary, together with former President Bill Clinton —the main supporter of that agreement— and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
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