NI Protocol: When will MPs vote on Sunak’s Brexit plan and can it be blocked?

Rishi Sunak - Anadolu Agency
Rishi Sunak - Anadolu Agency

A fresh Brexit deal to address the bitter dispute over the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol has finally been agreed.

Mr Sunak on Monday confirmed that MPs will be given a binding vote on the new deal after fears that Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister, had failed to guarantee they would.

Speaking on Sunday morning, the Justice Secretary would not commit specifically to a vote, saying only that MPs “will have the opportunity to express themselves on the deal”.

However, on Monday, the prime minister told reporters: "Yes, Parliament will have a vote at the appropriate time and that vote will be respected."

He continued: "But as I said earlier I think it is important that we give everyone the time and the space they need to consider the detail of the framework that we have announced today because it is comprehensive in nature and that will take time for people to digest."

On Tuesday, Mr Sunak hinted that he will press ahead with the deal even if the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) rejects it. The deal is not expected to be put to a vote in the House of Commons this week, The Telegraph understands.

Here The Telegraph takes a look when the vote may happen, and how a trial in the Commons is likely to play out for Mr Sunak.

Did there have to be a vote?

There is no legal requirement for the Government to call a vote on Mr Sunak’s Brexit deal unless the UK and EU have agreed a new treaty, which is extremely unlikely. However, he confirmed on Monday that the deal would be put to a vote.

It was thought that the agreement could be written into law using secondary legislation that does not require a vote of the whole House.

Parliament had already given ministers the power to do this in existing primary legislation, such as the EU Withdrawal Act 2018.

Most secondary legislation made by ministers does not have to be approved by Parliament, but the most significant pieces are subject to “affirmative procedure”, which means a committee in each House has to meet and consider it.

However the committees do not have the power to change the legislation and - unlike primary legislation - it is vanishingly rare for it to be objected to.

Could ministers call a vote anyway?

In any case, the Government has confirmed it will still give MPs a chance to have their say in the Commons.

It could achieve this by scheduling a statement to the House, followed at some point by an opportunity for a debate on an unamendable motion framed “in neutral terms”.

MPs could have a vote at the end of the debate, but it would not carry any legal weight.

The Government could commit to treat this as a politically binding motion - for example, by saying it would not go ahead with Mr Sunak’s deal if MPs voted down the motion.

But while ministers would certainly face the wrath of the Commons if they reneged on such a pledge, there would be nothing legally preventing them from doing so.

Inviting MPs to express their views without giving them any actual power to reject the proposals would doubtless prove controversial, especially among Eurosceptics.

Tory backbencher Peter Bone, a prominent Brexiteer, told The Telegraph: “They may technically not need to call a vote because of the law, but they absolutely have to call a vote for democratic reasons and to get moral authority over it.”

Is there actually a chance the deal could be voted down?

Regardless of whether the Government manages to get the ERG and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) on board, there is little chance of Mr Sunak’s deal being defeated in the Commons.

This is because Labour has signalled that it would be prepared to back the agreement, giving Number 10 more than enough support to see it through.

However, this is one safety net Mr Sunak would rather avoid.

Labour coming to the Tories’ rescue because of a rebellion within their own ranks would be terrible optics for the party which campaigned to get Brexit done.

Can Brexiteers force a vote if the Government doesn't call one?

Technically, hardline Brexiteers could still find a way to have their say in the Commons if ministers deny them a vote on the new deal.

They could, for example, attach an amendment to a tangential piece of legislation, such as something related to Brexit or Northern Ireland.

Or they could demand an emergency debate from the Speaker, who would have the power to decide whether to grant it.

Doing so would allow them to get their point across, but it would be a purely political gesture.