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Sunak Pulls a Brexit Rabbit Out of His Hat

Azeem Ibrahim

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Northern Ireland’s thorny border problem may finally have an answer.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen seemed equally happy when they announced the Windsor framework on Feb. 27. The deal is projected to end more than half a decade of Brexit-based upheaval in Northern Ireland and to begin—in the words of more than one British prime minister—to “get Brexit done.”

For years, since Britain formally left the European Union in 2020, Northern Ireland has existed under a legal stopgap regime called the Northern Ireland Protocol. It was intended to avoid a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland springing up at the very moment of a dramatic British exit from the European Union—something that, some feared, would spur disagreement, violence, and communal strife.

The protocol meant, in effect, that Northern Ireland would remain inside the EU in practical terms on a provisional basis so that the border with the Republic of Ireland could remain open and free from the kinds of documents and customs checks that are against the spirit of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement of 1998. That agreement ended decades of violence, creating cross-border institutions with Ireland and recognizing the validity of both sets of claims to Northern Irish identity—Nationalists who wanted to reunite with Ireland and Unionists who saw themselves as British. The absence of a hard border with Ireland itself was key to that peace deal.

Read the rest in Foreign Policy.