Rishi Sunak is “keen” to formally invite US President Joe Biden to Northern Ireland to commemorate 25 years since the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) was signed.
The prime minister said the US president’s visit was not confirmed yet but that it would be “lovely to have the opportunity to celebrate the incredible work of the GFA and the balance that it holds”.
Mr Sunak added: “That’s why the Windsor Framework was such a positive step. I was very keen to try and bring resolution to some of the challenges of the protocol and… do the right thing for the people and businesses there.”
He said the framework, agreed between himself and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at the end of February, “removed a major issue”.
As for King Charles’s coronation on 6 May, the prime minister said “no decisions” had been made on that, but that there were “lots of great things to celebrate”.
What is the Good Friday Agreement that Mr Sunak wishes to celebrate?
The GFA was signed with the aim to cease the ongoing conflicts in Northern Ireland at the time, known as the Troubles which started in the late 1960s.
The violence stemmed from Ireland becoming an independent state, while Northern Ireland remained part of the UK.
Nationalists (who wanted to join the Republic of Ireland) and Unionists (keen for NI to remain in the UK) were at war for almost 30 years until the agreement was signed on 10 April 1998.
A new government was formed representing both sides to foster co-operation between the two communities.
Brexit unsettled the political situation as Northern Ireland became the only UK country to have a border with an EU nation in the Republic of Ireland.
Setting checks on the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland border would disrupt the GFA, according to both nations so the UK recently agreed to the Windsor Framework, as an attempt to overcome the challenges this caused.
What is the Windsor Framework?
It is essentially a new post-Brexit deal for Northern Ireland.
It was designed to reduce the number of checks on goods entering Northern Ireland ports by designating two lanes for them.
Products which are travelling through Northern Ireland to get to the Republic of Ireland – which is in the EU – will go via a red lane, ensuring they pass all the customs checks they need to before crossing the Irish Sea.
But products which are set to stay in Northern Ireland – and therefore in the UK – will go via a green lane, which Mr Sunak said would see the current “burdensome customs bureaucracy scrapped”, e.g. no more documents.
Further protections to Northern Ireland’s place in the UK were outlined including:
- VAT and excise duties implemented by the UK government applying to NI
- British products like trees, plants, and seed potatoes would be available in NI garden centres
- Drugs approved for use by the UK’s medicines regulator would be available in every pharmacy and hospital in Northern Ireland
- Pet owners could travel without documentation from a vet
The Stormont brake is also an important element of the framework, which would give the Northern Ireland Assembly that creates laws in Northern Ireland the power to oppose new EU legislation.