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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Graham Russell

‘Brexit breakthrough’: how the papers covered Rishi Sunak’s Northern Ireland deal

Composite of the UK newspaper front pages after Rishi Sunak announced a Northern Ireland deal to break a Brexit impasse.
Composite of the UK newspaper front pages after Rishi Sunak announced a Northern Ireland deal to break a Brexit impasse. Composite: The Daily Telegraph / The Guardian / The Times / Daily Express / Daily Mail / Metro

Rishi Sunak’s Windsor framework has been welcomed, at least initially, on the front pages in the UK and Ireland, as a way to break the Brexit impasse over Northern Ireland.

Some papers look ahead to the blue skies of greater European cooperation, while others focus on the potential storm clouds ahead if Tory rebels or the Democratic Unionist party opt to reject it.

The Times says simply “Brexit breakthrough” and leads with Sunak’s claim that the UK had “taken back control” via a veto on new EU laws that affect Northern Ireland (now known as the “Stormont brake”). Its second story puzzles over who exactly proposed getting EU commission chief Ursula von der Leyen to meet King Charles, given everyone seems to be denying it.

The Guardian shows a smiling Sunak and von der Leyen shaking hands under the headline: “PM hails ‘new chapter’ in relations with EU after Northern Ireland deal”. The standfirst carries a hint of the obstacles that lie ahead for Sunak in the form of hardline Brexiters in his party.

The Daily Mail can’t quite believe what has happened and reflects that in its front page with the headline: “Has Rishi done the impossible?”.

The Daily Telegraph carries an image of a cheerful Sunak and Von Der Leyen, and leads with the prime minister’s words: “Sunak: My deal is a new way forward.” It notes that an expected backlash from Tory rebels failed to materialise.

The Daily Express celebrates the Stormont brake aspect of the deal, but notes Boris Johnson has not yet given his view on the trashing of his Brexit legislative legacy. The headline is: “PM: My Brexit Deal ‘Now Takes Back Control’.”

The Financial Times looks ahead to the promise of an easier relationship with Europe. Its headline: “Northern Ireland trade deal eases post-Brexit tensions with Brussels.”

The i paper plays it both ways, marking the deal but also the trouble that may lie ahead with the headline: “Sunak secures breakthrough on Brexit – as tensions loom”.

Metro has some fun with Johnson’s claim to have an “oven-ready” Brexit deal back in 2019. Reporting that a Brexit deal has arrived, albeit 1,215 days late, it says “You can put the oven on.”

The Irish Times covers Sunak hailing the deal as a “new chapter”, and notes his adoption of the hardline Brexiter narrative of taking back control. The Irish Independent notes the “extreme caution” on the part of the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) as it studies the agreement but says taoiseach Leo Varadkar has welcomed the deal.

The Belfast Telegraph says all eyes are now on the DUP, whose leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, said it won’t be “rushed or pushed” into a hasty decision.

The Irish News leads with an assessment of the dilemma facing Donaldson by columist Alex Kane: “So, Donaldson’s choice is a simple, if brutal one. Reject a deal which a UK parliament is likely to endorse with a massive majority, leaving the party weak and friendless at the centre of power. Or face down his internal and external opponents and try and persuade a majority of unionist voters that, while not perfect, the Windsor Framework is much better than most people imagined even as recently as the start of January.”

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