Deal designed to resolve a thorny trade dispute that vexed UK-EU relations and triggered a political crisis in Belfast clears the House of Commons with an overwhelming 515-29 vote.
British lawmakers have voted overwhelmingly in favour of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's deal with the European Union to rewrite the post-Brexit rules on Northern Ireland trade.
The House of Commons voted on Wednesday 515-29 to back a key portion of the agreement, which is designed to resolve a thorny trade dispute that vexed UK-EU relations and triggered a political crisis in Belfast.
But Sunak faced a rebellion by 22 fellow Conservatives, including his two immediate predecessors.
Former prime ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss both voted against the deal.
Johnson, who led Britain out of the EU in 2020, said the deal was “not acceptable” because it kept some EU laws in operation in Northern Ireland, restricting the UK’s ability to diverge from the bloc's rules and “take advantage of Brexit.”
A hard-Brexit group of Conservative Party lawmakers known as the European Research Group also said it opposed the deal.
The government easily won the vote with backing from the Labour Party and other opposition groups, along with most Conservative legislators.
Sunak’s agreement, known as the Windsor Framework, replaces elements of the Brexit divorce deal negotiated by Johnson, and hailed by him at the time as an “oven-ready” agreement.
READ MORE: UK, EU reach breakthrough Brexit deal over Northern Ireland trade
𝐉𝐔𝐒𝐓 𝐏𝐀𝐒𝐒𝐄𝐃: Rishi Sunak's Windsor Framework will ensure free flowing trade and safeguard sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland. pic.twitter.com/HnBPO5rs9b— Conservatives (@Conservatives) March 22, 2023
Ahead of Wednesday’s vote, Sunak said the framework was “a good deal for the people, families and businesses of Northern Ireland” and protects the region’s place in the United Kingdom.
Johnson’s deal imposed customs checks and other hurdles on goods moving to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK in order to maintain an open border between the region and its EU neighbor, the Republic of Ireland. The open border is a key pillar of Northern Ireland’s peace process.
Northern Ireland’s British unionist politicians strongly opposed the customs border, saying it undermined Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom.
The Democratic Unionist Party walked out of the power-sharing semi-autonomous Belfast government a year ago in protest, leaving Northern Ireland’s 1.9 million people without a functioning administration.
The Windsor Framework removes most of the checks and is designed to ease the burden on businesses and to address the unionist concerns. It gives Northern Ireland politicians a mechanism, known as the Stormont Brake, to challenge new EU trade rules that could apply in the region - a key unionist demand.
But the Democratic Unionist Party is concerned the mechanism does not go far enough, and some elements of EU law will continue to apply in Northern Ireland.
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