Rishi Sunak is accused of dragging King into Brexit storm

Rishi Sunak is accused of dragging King into Brexit storm after it emerged Charles was lined up to meet the EU president as negotiations came to a head

  • A meeting between Ms von der Leyen and King Charles was cancelled last night 
  • The DUP and Jacob Rees-Mogg have both criticised the PM over the meeting 
  • A deal between the EU and the UK on Northern Ireland is reportedly days away 

Rishi Sunak has been accused of dragging the King into politics after it emerged Charles had been lined up to meet the EU president as Brexit negotiations came to a head.

The King’s meeting with Ursula von der Leyen today at Windsor, at such a sensitive time, would have been highly unusual – and is likely to raise questions about the judgment of both No 10 and the Palace.

Although the monarch would not have taken part in political negotiations, his involvement in any form would have given the impression that he had given the deal his blessing.

Some may have hoped the impression of royal authority would help win over unionists in Northern Ireland, whose support is crucial if new trading arrangements are to be agreed.

But it risked accusations that the PM was dragging the monarch into a controversial political issue.

Rishi Sunak is coming under pressure over recently cancelled plans for the European Commission President to meet King Charles during her UK visit

Although King Charles would not have taken part in political negotiations, his involvement in any form would have given the impression that he had given the deal his blessing

The proposed audience with the King has now been cancelled for unspecified reasons. The Government last night said Mrs von der Leyen is now no longer expected to travel to Britain. Buckingham Palace declined to comment.

Last night, DUP peer Lord Dodds said: ‘To plan for politicising the monarchy in this way reinforces the questions about No 10’s political judgment over the Protocol.’

Labour’s Northern Ireland spokesman Peter Kyle told Sky News: ‘It seems there is panic within No 10 and they are reaching for all sorts of quite absurd policies and levers to try and pull.’ Tory peer Lord Moylan said: ‘I can’t imagine the late Queen making this mistake.’

The Prime Minister is on the brink of hammering out the details of a new trade deal governing Northern Ireland, despite warnings it could destabilise his premiership.

Further talks were due to have been held at No 10 today before Mrs von der Leyen’s proposed audience with the King.

Sources said the two leaders had made ‘significant progress’ and would hold further talks in the coming days after making ‘positive breakthroughs’ this week.

Yesterday Downing Street was tight-lipped about a timetable for an agreement, but one Whitehall source said it was likely to come ‘in the next 72 hours’, or even tomorrow.

Cabinet ministers have been put on standby for a possible call to discuss the details this weekend, and MPs believe an agreement could be unveiled on Monday.

However, it is not clear when – or even if – MPs will get a vote on the deal. But a senior Tory, who met the PM this week, said: ‘If you hold a vote you cement divisions.’

Mr Sunak is also expected to hold further talks with DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson in a bid to win his backing.

Eurosceptic MPs including Boris Johnson have hinted they could try to vote against the deal if the PM cedes too much ground to Brussels, with threats of resignations.

Further talks were due to have been held at No 10 today before Ms von der Leyen’s proposed audience with the King

Mr Sunak is also expected to hold further talks with DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson in a bid to win his backing

Read more: King Charles axes plans to host European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen amid fears he was being dragged into Brexit row – with a landmark deal ‘just DAYS away’ 

Jacob Rees-Mogg, a former business secretary and senior member of the Tory Eurosceptic European Research Group (ERG) said: ‘If there were a plan to bring the King in before there is domestic political agreement, it would border on constitutional impropriety.’

Mr Sunak is keen to secure the backing of not only his Tory MPs but also the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) for any protocol reform as he looks to restore powersharing in Belfast.

The DUP is refusing to take part in Stormont’s cross-community devolved government in protest at the impact the Brexit treaty is having on trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

Former DUP deputy leader Lord Dodds said meeting Ms von der Leyen would have politicised the monarch, and argued the reports ‘reinforce the questions about No 10’s political judgment over the protocol’.

Sammy Wilson, a DUP MP, said any Windsor rendezvous with the EU leader would have been ‘a cynical use’ of the King’s position and seen in Unionist circles as the sovereign endorsing the deal.

He branded the Prime Minister ‘naive’ and accused him of ‘dragging the King into a hugely controversial political issue’.

‘The only conclusion we can come to is he knows that in these negotiations he hasn’t achieved the objectives he set out for himself and his own party,’ Mr Wilson said on Sky News of Mr Sunak.

‘Nor has he achieved the promises that he had made to ourselves and was now trying to get the King to pull the thing over the line for him.’

Baroness Hoey, a Northern Irish Brexit supporter and former Labour MP, said any such meeting would have been ‘outrageous’.

UK Government sources said that, while Ms von der Leyen’s trip was no longer going ahead, it would not have been improper for the King, as head of state, to meet a visiting European leader.

‘It would be wrong to suggest the King would be involved in anything remotely political,’ a Government source said.

Buckingham Palace would not comment.

Labour’s shadow Northern Ireland secretary Peter Kyle said Downing Street should have realised utilising the King would have ‘constitutional implications’ and been ‘highly insensitive to the politics of Northern Ireland’.

‘It certainly is nothing we should be involving His Majesty in,’ he told Sky.

No 10 said Mr Sunak will be spending the weekend speaking to ‘relevant stakeholders’ as he looks to get a protocol deal over the line.

Downing Street said ‘intensive negotiations’ with Brussels are still taking place.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, who has had regular meetings with commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic, said talks with the EU have been ‘tough and complicated’ but were ‘entered into in good spirits, with good faith’.

He told GB News on Saturday: ‘I really hope that we can get this resolved, but we will resolve this when we have addressed all the issues that we are seeking to resolve rather than (working to) some arbitrary deadline.’

Multiple reports suggest the deal between the UK and the EU is all but done – with Mr Sunak delaying an announcement until he is confident it will be accepted.

The protocol, signed by former prime minister Boris Johnson in 2020, was designed to prevent a hard border with Ireland after Brexit by effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market.

But the treaty has incensed unionists due to the trade barriers it created between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

According to The Times, the current offer on the table would mean an overhauled protocol, which would remove almost all checks and most paperwork on goods crossing the Irish Sea.

The newspaper said the agreement would also mean control over the rate of VAT and state aid policy will fall to Westminster rather than Brussels for the first time since Brexit was enacted.

Speculation that No 10 is preparing to confirm a deal to fix the protocol intensified on Friday after a Downing Street source said ‘good progress’ was made during a phone call between the Prime Minister and the commission president.

Any announcement of a deal is expected to set up a possible clash with Conservative Brexit hardliners, with the Prime Minister promising MPs will be given the chance to ‘express’ their views on the new terms.

The DUP has issued seven tests to win its backing for any deal, including addressing what it calls the ‘democratic deficit’ of Northern Ireland being subject to EU rules while not having a say on them.

The Daily Telegraph, which said a breakthrough could come over the weekend, said it was understood the DUP is set to be granted a place at the negotiating table when the EU is considering new laws applicable in Northern Ireland.

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