Brexit: European Research Group of Conservative MPs gives support for EU trade deal

·2-min read

A group of influential Conservative Brexiteers has declared its support for the EU trade deal agreed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The European Research Group (ERG) said the agreement, struck with Brussels on Christmas Eve, "preserves the UK's sovereignty as a matter of law".

Their "star chamber" of legal experts - including former Brexit minister David Jones and veteran eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash - added the deal "fully respects the norms of international sovereign-to-sovereign treaties".

Although they said the agreement's "level playing field" clauses - on common rules and standards with the EU - "go further than in comparable trade agreements", they judged their impact "is likely to be limited if addressed by a robust government".

"In any event they do not prevent the UK from changing its laws as it sees fit at a risk of tariff counter-measures, and if those were unacceptable the agreement could be terminated on 12 months' notice," their analysis concluded.

The ERG's backing for the trade agreement provides a significant boost for Mr Johnson, after a number of their members previously withheld their support for ex-prime minister Theresa May's ill-fated divorce deal last year.

Commenting on the verdict of the "star chamber", prominent Tory backbencher Steve Baker - one of the ERG's "spartans" who repeatedly voted against Mrs May's deal - said: "I love it when a plan comes together."

MPs are due to vote on Mr Johnson's trade deal on Wednesday, with the government hoping the 1,246-page agreement can be ratified by parliament in a single day.

If approved, the trade deal will come into force on 1 January - following the end of the Brexit transition period at the end of this year.

Mr Johnson should see the deal pass through the House of Commons with few problems, after Labour said they would vote in favour of the agreement.

The party's shadow business minister, Lucy Powell, told Sky News on Tuesday the trade deal was "not as comprehensive a deal as we would like or the country was promised".

But she said MPs now faced a "binary choice" between approving the trade agreement or the UK leaving the Brexit transition period with the "catastrophic consequences" of no deal being in place.

Ms Powell added she understood the vote would be a "difficult issue" for her fellow Labour MPs, amid signs a number of them might rebel and vote against the deal.

Former shadow cabinet ministers John McDonnell, Clive Lewis and Ben Bradshaw are among a list of Labour figures to have signed a statement urging the party not to support the trade agreement.

The DUP will vote against the deal as they continue to register their discontent with the provisions for the Irish border - known as the Northern Ireland Protocol - that Mr Johnson signed up to last year.

The SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats have also said they will vote against the deal.