Johnson risks being remembered as 'pound shop Nigel Farage' over Brexit rebellion, warns minister

Boris Johnson risks being remembered as a "pound shop Nigel Farage" if he votes against Rishi Sunak's new deal for Northern Ireland, a senior Brexiteer has warned.

In a show of blue-on-blue Tory infighting over Wednesday's vote, Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker attacked the former prime minister's opposition to the Windsor Framework, saying it will "wreck our relations with the European Union and damage our standing internationally".

In a reference to the former leader of pro-Brexit party UKIP, Mr Baker said: "He's got a choice - he can be remembered for great acts of statecraft that he achieved or he can risk looking like pound shop Nigel Farage. And I hope he chooses to be remembered as a statesman."

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Former prime minister Liz Truss will also form part of an expected backbench rebellion against the new deal negotiated with Brussels last month, which aims to change the way Mr Johnson's Northern Ireland Protocol operates.

The European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative MPs has recommended members vote against the government when it is put to the House of Commons later, calling the new agreement "rushed and oversold".

MPs will decide whether they want to back the Stormont brake or not, with both former prime ministers saying they will not side with their successor Mr Sunak.

What is the Windsor Framework?

Mr Johnson said the proposed new arrangements would mean the "whole of the UK" was unable "properly to diverge and take advantage of Brexit".

"The proposed arrangements would mean either that Northern Ireland remained captured by the EU legal order - and was increasingly divergent from the rest of the UK - or they would mean that the whole of the UK was unable properly to diverge and take advantage of Brexit," he said.

"That is not acceptable. I will be voting against the proposed arrangements today.

"Instead, the best course of action is to proceed with the Northern Ireland Protocol bill, and make sure that we take back control."

Ms Truss is understood to believe the PM's pact does not "satisfactorily resolve the issues thrown up by" the protocol and "almost fatally impinges" on the UK's ability to diverge from EU rules and regulations.

A source close to her said: "After examining the detail of the Stormont brake and Windsor Framework, Liz has decided to vote against the statutory instrument this afternoon."

Mr Johnson has previously expressed doubts about the framework, while conceding he made mistakes in signing his contentious protocol.

The mechanism was agreed by him as part of his "oven ready" Brexit deal to prevent a hardening of the land border on the island of Ireland - which all sides agreed was necessary to preserve peace.

But it led to trade barriers being created between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, effectively creating a customs border down the Irish Sea - something the former prime minister promised would not happen.

As a result Mr Johnson sought to pass the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill - a controversial piece of legislation aimed at overriding parts of the UK's Brexit withdrawal agreement with the EU.

The move soured relations with Brussels, which said it would breach international law, and Mr Sunak paused the bill while attempting to negotiate a new deal after taking office.

'Best deal for Northern Ireland'

The Windsor Framework aims to reduce red tape on goods passing between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK by implementing a green and red lane system, while addressing the so-called "democratic deficit" through the Stormont brake.

This mechanism would allow a minority of politicians in Belfast to formally flag concerns about the imposition of new EU laws in Northern Ireland - a move that could see the UK government veto their introduction in the region.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said this is at "the heart of the framework" and "restores practical sovereignty" to the people of Northern Ireland.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said Mr Sunak believes "this is the best deal for Northern Ireland, for the people of Northern Ireland."

She added: "It ensures a smooth flow of trade internally within the UK, safeguards Northern Ireland's place in the union and addresses the democratic deficit".

The Stormont brake is the only aspect of the framework currently being put to MPs for a vote, with Downing Street saying it is the "most significant" part of the agreement.

Some Tory MPs have criticised this approach, with backbencher Peter Bone accusing the government of "avoiding scrutiny" and suggesting he would not be voting with them.

Senior Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg has also said he will not back the deal.

Senior government sources predict a rebellion of between 20 and 40 Tory MPs, with a major whipping operation underway to shift rebels into the abstention column, according to Sky's political correspondent Joe Pike.

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With Labour backing the Windsor Framework agreement Mr Sunak should win the Commons division comfortably - but it will be seen as highly damaging to Mr Sunak if it only gets through with opposition votes.

And even if the government wins the vote, the prospect of power-sharing is up in the air after the DUP said they wouldn't support the legislation.

The party pulled out of the Northern Ireland Assembly early last year in protest at the protocol, and on Monday said Mr Sunak's new deal didn't address the "fundamental problems" it caused.