Grow up and compromise on Brexit, hardline Tory MPs warned

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

HARDLINE pro-Brexit Tory MPs were told on Monday “to grow up and compromise” to help strike a Northern Ireland trade deal.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing a backlash from “ultras” in his own party and unionists as he battles to win support for a compromise on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

But as MPs returned to Westminster after half term recess, moderate Conservatives urged “ideologues” not to threaten the deal.

Sir Bob Neill, chairman of the Commons justice committee, said: “What we need is pragmatism not dogmatism.

“It’s ridiculous to take purist points when you have got serious issues about people’s businesses, livelihoods and security. People have to grow up and compromise.”

With the UK facing recession this year and Bank of England chief Jonathan Haskel warning last week that Britain has suffered a loss of business investment since the 2016 referendum worth £29bn, the former minister Stephen Hammond added: “The PM is in process of finalising a deal that will serve the whole of the UK’s interests.

“A small group of ideologues must not threaten a deal which is in the interests of NI businesses and people.”

And Sir David Lidington, former minister and now chairman of the Conservative European Forum, said: “More than six years after the referendum it’s time to put old divisions behind us.”

Mr Sunak is facing his biggest political test since becoming PM as he races to fix the Protocol, which avoids the need for a hard border in Ireland by introducing checks on some goods travelling between GB and NI.

Hard right Tory MPs and the Democratic Unionist Party oppose the Protocol, arguing it drives a wedge between GB and the region, creating costly red tape for businesses.

The deal drawn up by UK and EU negotiators would remove the majority of trade checks between GB and NI with more stringent checks maintained for goods going on to Ireland.

But hardliners and the DUP are concerned about the EU’s insistence on the ultimate oversight of the European Court of Justice on trade disputes which they say undermines UK sovereignty.

After travelling to Northern Ireland on Friday to meet with the region’s political leaders, Mr Sunak met with EU chiefs at the Munich Security Conference over the weekend in a bid to tie up loose ends on a deal which he had hoped to unveil this week.

But former Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg told the BBC last night: “I think you need to get the DUP on board first and then go and talk to Brussels rather than try and bounce the DUP because the DUP doesn’t respond well to being bounced.”

Senior Tory MP Sir Bernard Jenkin, a prominent Brexiteer, added on Times Radio: “If it doesn’t get the support of both the communities in Northern Ireland, it’s probably just going to make things worse, because it will cement in place an agreement that has destroyed power sharing.”

The DUP has refused to participate in the NI Assembly leading to a collapse in the powersharing agreement and NI government at Stormont.

Both the UK and EU want to secure a deal and restore power sharing before the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday peace deal on 10 April.

Senior DUP MP Sammy Wilson said he did not believe there will be a deal this week. No10 said negotiations were continuing.

Sources said if Mr Sunak can limit the rebellion to hardline backbenchers and keep Northern Ireland ministers Chris Heaton-Harris and Steve Baker in government then he may be able to get the deal through without relying on Labour’s support.

Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer has said he will give Mr Sunak cover by backing any compromise deal on the protocol.

The PM is also coming under pressure from former premier Boris Johnson who warned Mr Sunak at the weekend not to ditch UK legislation which overrides the protocol.

Former minister Simon Clarke said: “If the perception is there that the Bill is moribund then that will, I am afraid, weaken our hand very considerably.”