Britain's Prime Minister spent half an hour talking to a range of business leaders from Northern Ireland this afternoon about the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Rishi Sunak conducted a zoom call with representatives of around 15 sectors, including manufacturing, agrifood, construction and retail.

He told them what he was trying to do in his negotiations with the EU and said he wanted to hear their perspective on the working of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Stephen Kelly of Manufacturing NI said Mr Sunak did not go into detail on the current status of the negotiations or indicated a timeframe for a possible deal with the EU.

He said he was impressed by the prime minister's grasp of the detail.

"He was directly engaged and had an intimate understanding of the issues. This wasn't a case of going through the motions," he said.

Mr Kelly said the prime minister had been told that a dual regulatory approach was fine for retail goods that were going to be consumed in Northern Ireland.

That covers the bulk of the material crossing the Irish Sea from Britain.

But manufacturers told him that when it came to products, components or ingredients they might use it could lead to "risk and burden", particularly for the agri-food industry.

The prime minister had been told that it would not work for Northern Ireland's exporters and they would prefer to be left to "get on with it."

Sunak: Parliament will 'express view' on protocol

Earlier, Mr Sunak said the British parliament will get to express its view on any deal between the UK and the EU over post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland.

"Of course, parliament will express its view," Mr Sunak told parliament in response to a question from the British Labour party's leader Keir Starmer on whether parliament will get a vote on any potential deal.

"This is about what is best for the people and communities of Northern Ireland. And that ... is what I will keep fighting for," Mr Sunak said.

Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Sunak said he was a "Conservative, a Brexiteer and a unionist", and any agreement with the EU over changes to arrangements with Northern Ireland must tick those boxes.

Mr Starmer said: "The Labour Party is proud to be the party of the Good Friday Agreement and peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland. We welcome attempts to make the protocol work more effectively.

"Does the prime minister agree with me that it has been poorly implemented and that the basis for any deal must be removing unnecessary checks on goods?"

Mr Sunak said: "As he knows, we are still in active discussions with the European Union.

"[The deal] needs to ensure sovereignty for Northern Ireland, it needs to safeguard Northern Ireland's place in our union, and it needs to find practical solutions to the problems faced by people and businesses.

"I will be resolute in fighting for what is best for Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom."

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Mr Sunak said of Northern Ireland: "I have a good understanding of what is required and I will keep fighting until we get it."

Mr Starmer said: "We all agree that the protocol can be improved. But there are trade-offs and we need to face up to them.

"His predecessor told businesses that there would be no forms, no checks, no barriers of any kind.

"That was absolute nonsense, and it destroyed trust. So in the interests of restoring that trust, will he confirm that to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland the deal he is negotiating is going to see Northern Ireland continue to follow some EU law?"

Mr Sunak said: "The honourable gentleman is jumping ahead... we are still in intensive discussions with the European Union to ensure that we can find agreement that meets the tests that I said, and that is sovereignty for Northern Ireland, its Northern Ireland's place in our precious union, and it is to find practical solutions to the problems faced by people and businesses."

He added: "I have a good understanding of what is required and I will keep fighting until we get it."

Tánaiste Micheál Martin has said trust has built up between the UK and EU negotiating teams in terms of the protocol, but he cannot give a timeline for a deal.

Mr Martin said engagement was ongoing.

He told reporters today that the people of Northern Ireland should be first and foremost in people's minds, in terms of getting a deal and resuming the institutions.

What is the NI Protocol?

The protocol is part of the Withdrawal Agreement - the international treaty under which the UK left the EU.

It was a compromise to prevent a hard border with checks on goods crossing from Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland and the EU's Single Market.

Under the deal, Northern Ireland left the EU along with the rest of the UK.

But the British government accepted that it would stay aligned with the EU's Single Market rules for goods.

That allowed the checks to be done at Northern Ireland’s ports instead of along the 300-mile land border. It has been dubbed 'The Border in the Irish Sea'.

The EU’s rules on customs and regulation of agri-food products also continue to apply to goods arriving in NI.

Additional reporting: Reuters and PA