Boris Johnson, now a backbencher, retains a loyal following within the Conservatives.
Boris Johnson has added to Rishi Sunak’s Brexit woes by signaling his opposition to the prime minister’s deal on Northern Ireland.
The former PM, now an influential figure on the back benches, declined to guarantee that he would back an agreement on the Northern Ireland protocol negotiated by his successor.
Instead, Johnson praised the Northern Ireland protocol bill, the controversial piece of legislation that would tear up key parts of the post-Brexit deal for the region.
Currently waiting to make its passage through the House of Lords, the bill could be ditched by Sunak as a gesture of goodwill if a fresh agreement with the EU is reached.
Sunak is already facing pressure from Brexiteer Tory MPs and the DUP demanding that the current border in the Irish Sea be scrapped, and that EU laws and European court judgments are not applied in Northern Ireland.
Boris Johnson casts doubt on Rishi Sunak's Northern Ireland Protocol talks saying the 'best way forward' is the bill he agreed.
The former prime minister refused to say he would back any deal negotiated by his successor
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Johnson, in a Sky News interview marking the anniversary of the Ukraine invasion, was asked briefly about the post-Brexit arrangement he negotiated and which has been the source of bitter political clashes in Belfast and Westminster.
He said: “I think that it is important to wait to see what there may be but I think the best way forward, as I said when I was running the government, is the Northern Ireland bill, which cleared the Commons very comfortably, I think unamended, when I was in office and only a few months ago.
“So, I think that is the best way forward.”
Asked about his backing for any deal by Sunak, he said: “I think the best thing is to continue with the Northern Ireland bill that we agreed, it is a very good bill, it fixes all the problems, it solves the problems we have in the Irish Sea, it solves the problems of paperwork, VAT and so on, it is an excellent Bill and doesn’t set up any other problems in the economy of the whole island of Ireland.
“So, I’d go with that one.”
The protocol, agreed as part of the UK’s Brexit deal, effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods, meaning checks on products crossing from Great Britain.
The situation led to the collapse of powersharing in Northern Ireland, with the DUP protesting about the barrier to trade with the rest of the UK.
Downing Street has set no deadline for resolving the issue, but the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in April adds to the imperative of getting a deal soon.