Rishi Sunak to secure new Brexit deal this weekend

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Rishi Sunak is hoping to secure a Brexit deal this weekend after Downing Street claimed he had gained last-minute concessions from Brussels.

No 10 said the Government had achieved a string of “positive breakthroughs” during intensive discussions over the past week to address problems faced by businesses as a result of the post-Brexit rules governing Northern Ireland.

The Prime Minister spoke to Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, on Friday night, with further talks planned to seal the deal.

The Telegraph understands arrangements are in place for the UK and EU to agree on the deal as early as Sunday, with a legal text presented to Parliament on Monday.

Mrs von der Leyen is expected to travel to Britain for a “handshake moment” with Mr Sunak once the agreement is struck.

On Friday, Sky News reported that the King had been due to meet Mrs von der Leyen on Saturday, but that the meeting had been cancelled.

Conservative MPs have been told they must turn up at the House of Commons on Monday, in a further sign that Mr Sunak expects the deal to be ready.

However, it is not yet known whether the new agreement will be accepted by the Democratic Unionist Party, which has demanded that European courts have no say whatsoever in Northern Ireland.

The agreement will also have to secure the backing of Brexiteer Tory backbenchers in the European Research Group (ERG).

Government sources said on Friday: “Talks with the European Union to address these problems have intensified over the last week and progress has been good, with some positive breakthroughs made.”

However, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader, said: “The objective in London and Brussels should be to get this right rather than rushed. The wrong deal will not restore power-sharing but will deepen division for future generations.

“Over 18 months ago, we outlined our seven tests and used those to mark out the parameters for the way forward. Those tests will be how we will judge any deal between the EU and UK.”

Britain and the EU have been in a stand-off for two years over renegotiating the Northern Ireland Protocol, which prevents a hard border with Ireland by moving checks to the Irish Sea.

One well-placed source said the outline of a deal had “been there for quite some time” and that recent negotiations between the sides were just “fine-tuning”.

Recent discussions have focussed heavily on the “packaging and presentation” of the agreement before presenting it to the DUP and ERG, the source added.

Although Downing Street did not give details on Friday night, possible concessions include a provision for Westminster to set VAT rates and state aid policy in Northern Ireland.

Under the Northern Ireland Protocol, these are set by Brussels, even though the province is part of the United Kingdom.

Other potential concessions include far fewer checks on British goods transported to Northern Ireland, and perhaps a greater role for the UK in checking whether goods from Britain destined for the Republic of Ireland meet EU rules.

Under the new agreement, it is understood that the DUP is set to be guaranteed a seat at the negotiating table when new EU laws that could apply in Northern Ireland are being drawn up.

Mr Sunak is understood to have been first presented with the draft of the pact in mid-January, but then he told his negotiators to keep pushing for more.

An EU diplomat said that it was looking “very likely” that the deal would be publicly announced by the end of Monday at the latest.

Cabinet ministers have also been put on notice for a potential video call with No 10 in anticipation that the agreement will be finalised over the weekend.

Boris Johnson advising ERG and DUP

Downing Street said Mr Sunak had been pursuing “fundamental changes” to the Protocol and that his priorities were to safeguard Northern Ireland’s position in the UK, protect the Good Friday Agreement, and address practical problems faced by people and businesses on the ground in the province.

On Friday, he met retailers who gave their thoughts about the issues the Protocol causes.

It comes as it emerged that Boris Johnson has been advising the ERG and the DUP over Mr Sunak’s Brexit deal.

The former prime minister has held secret talks with both groups at the same time as No 10 tries to win their backing for its agreement with the EU.

The discussions were revealed by the DUP’s Sammy Wilson, who said the former prime minister had also met his party’s leader.

“He has sent messages that he’s prepared to give us support,” the leading Unionist MP told Chopper’s Politics podcast.

“I’ve got to be quite frank with you, I think he’s got a duty to help because, after all, he was the person who got it in the situation in the present.”

It was Mr Johnson who signed the deal that put the Northern Ireland Protocol into law.

Mr Wilson criticised Mr Sunak’s handling of the negotiations with the EU in remarks which bode ill for No 10’s hopes of winning the DUP over.

He said: “I find it amazing that a Conservative Unionist Party prime minister doesn’t understand what it means to be part of the Union.

“I would have thought that being part of the Union was very clear cut.”

James Cleverly, the Foreign Secretary, pledged that the Government will “not sign off on” any deal that is not supported by the DUP.

He insisted that UK negotiators are putting a “sense of sovereignty” and “the importance of a democratic voice” for Belfast at the heart of the talks.

Source: telegraph.co.uk