London politics latest LIVE: ‘Irreconcilable’ Tory MPs will ‘come after Sunak’ over Northern Ireland deal, says Keir Starmer

Rishi Sunak promised to be "resolute" in defending Northern Ireland as he seeks a deal to rewrite the terms of its post-Brexit arrangements.

The Prime Minister indicated that he would put any new deal to a vote in the Commons, risking a showdown with Eurosceptics on the Tory benches.

The Government and the European Union are still negotiating changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol, the arrangements aimed at preventing a hard border with Ireland.

Mr Sunak told MPs: "I am a Conservative, a Brexiter and a unionist, and any agreement that we reach needs to tick all three boxes.

"It needs to ensure sovereignty for Northern Ireland, it needs to safeguard Northern Ireland's place in our union, and it needs to find practical solutions to the problems faced by people and businesses.

"I will be resolute in fighting for what is best for Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom."

The Prime Minister spoke to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday night, Downing Street said.

Sunak deal on Northern Ireland ‘not going to sell anyone out'

08:16 , Josh Salisbury

Good morning and welcome to our live coverage of today’s political developments.

Rishi Sunak is negoiating an attempt to resolve post-Brexit trading issues in Northern Ireland.

Speaking on Sky News, Veterans’ Minister Johnny Mercer the deal is “not going to sell anyone out".

He said Mr Sunak had “good discussions last week with the European Union" and had "good engagement going on with other MPs".

He added: “Let's give the Prime Minister a chance to come out with something.

“He's attacking this, he is throwing everything he can. He voted for and campaigned hard for Brexit, right?

“So he is not going to sell anyone out or come up with a solution that is unfair or doesn't deliver on what he thinks is Brexit.

“I think, let's give him a chance, let's give him an opportunity to bring some sort of resolution to the protocol and then let's get behind him and get on with all the other challenges we face as a country at the moment."

Asked whether there could be a deal this week, Mr Mercer replied: "I don't know, I hope so."

Public sector pay ‘intractable problem’ with ‘no easy solution'

08:27 , Josh Salisbury

The debate around public sector pay is an “intractable problem" with “no cost-free solution", a Government minister has said.

Cabinet Office minister Johnny Mercer, asked on Times Radio whether departmental submissions for 3.5% pay rises in 2023/24 for police, teachers, nurses and other workers was likely to solve the current strikes, said: “I think this is an intractable problem.

“If you look at what is going on in communities like I represent in Plymouth, the biggest challenge is inflation, without a shadow of a doubt. That is driving up prices across the board.

“If you chase that inflation with public sector pay rises, as people like the governor of the Bank of England have pointed out, you are into a never-ending circle where prices just continue to rise.

“I will always advocate for people who work in my constituency to be paid more if they work in the public sector.

“But you have to do it in a balanced way. This is not a binary argument, there is no cost-free solution."

Mr Mercer said the “easy option would be to cede to everyone's demands but then inflation would continue to go up and prices would continue to go up, and life gets harder".

Blair and Hague call for digital ID cards

09:30 , Josh Salisbury

Every citizen should be issued with a “digital ID” as part of a “fundamental reshaping of the state around technology”, Sir Tony Blair and Lord Hague have urged.

The former Labour PM Blair and former Tory leader Hague said the challenge of adapting to the new technological revolution meant putting party differences to one side.

Their plan would involve a new ID incorporating details such as a passport, driving licence, tax records, qualifications and right to work status which could be stored on a mobile phone.

In a joint article for The Times they said: “Politics must change radically because the world is changing radically.

“We are living through a 21st-century technology revolution as huge in its implications as the 19th-century Industrial Revolution.”

They warned that politicians were in danger of conducting a “20th century fight at the margins of tax and spending policy” rather than grappling with the fundamental shifts required in the new era.

“We both believe the challenge is so urgent, the danger of falling behind so great and the opportunities so exciting that a new sense of national purpose across political dividing lines is needed,” the former Labour and Tory leaders said.

Mercer rejects Defence Secretary claim of military underfunding

10:21 , Josh Salisbury

Veterans’ minister Johnny Mercer has risked a row with Defence Secretary Ben Wallace over funding of the Armed Forces, by saying it was “not credible” to suggested they had been “hollowed out”.

Mr Mercer, asked about Defence Secretary Ben Wallace's recent comments on defence funding, said he did not "buy into the narrative of running down defence" as he praised the size of defence settlements in recent years.

He suggested the Cabinet minister had been "advocating for" the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in the lead-up to the Budget on March 15 with recent pronouncements saying the UK’s military was under-resourced.

During a debate last month in the Commons, Mr Wallace said he was "happy to say that we have been hollowed out and underfunded".

It comes against a backdrop of UK efforts to support Ukraine in pushing back invading Russian troops and rising global tensions with China.

Tory Brexit hardliners told to ‘get real’ amid protocol negotiations

11:12 , Josh Salisbury

Ministers have fired warning shots at Tory hardliners on Brexit, telling them to “operate in the real world” and stop tearing their party “to shreds”.

Veterans Affairs minister Johnny Mercer backed Rishi Sunak’s push for a deal to end the impasse over Northern Ireland trading arrangements, insisting he wasn’t about to “sell anyone out”.

He added on Times Radio: “We’ve got to operate in the real world. Rishi Sunak campaigned, voted for and is very committed to Brexit.

“It feels like we’re stuck in a time warp doesn’t it because we’re talking about same things we’ve been talking about for five years. Let’s give the Prime Minister a chance to come out with something? He’s attacking this. He is doing everything he can.”

Armed Forces Minister James Heappey also urged Conservative MPs to give the prime minister space to finish negotiations with Brussels.

Read our full story here.

Pictured: Rishi Sunak leaves No10 for PMQs

11:45 , Josh Salisbury

Rishi Sunak has left No10 for PMQs in Parliament, where he is expected to face questioning on public sector pay and post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland.

Rishi Sunak leaves for PMQs (Getty Images)
Rishi Sunak leaves for PMQs (Getty Images)

Sunak: We will continue to tackle violence against women and girls

12:04 , Josh Salisbury

The first question to Rishi Sunak comes from Labour MP Andrew Western, asking if the Government will commit to a police response to every domestic abuse response.

Mr Sunak replies: “Just this week we announced new measures to tackle violence against women and girls ... We will continue to do everything we can to make sure women and girls are safe everywhere in our country.”

Sunak: Northern Ireland deal must meet ‘Conservative, Brexit and Unionist’ conditions

12:08 , Josh Salisbury

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer begins his questions to Mr Sunak by asking about the post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland asking if the PM agrees it has been “poorly implemented”.

Mr Sunak responds: “We are still in active discussion with the European Union but he should know I’m a Conservative, a Brexiter and a Unionist, and any agreement that we reach needs to tick all three boxes.

“It needs to ensure sovereignty for Northern Ireland, it needs to safeguard Northern Ireland’s place in in our union, and it needs to find practical solutions to the problems faced by people and businesses.”

Sunak declines to say whether Northern Ireland will continue to follow some EU law under deal

12:11 , Josh Salisbury

Keir Starmer has accused the former Prime Minister Boris Johnson of talking “ absolute nonsense” over the Northern Ireland Protocol, saying it has not lived up to the promise of “no forms, no checks, no barriers of any kind”.

He asks Mr Sunak to confirm whether the deal will see Northern Ireland will continue to follow some EU law.

Mr Sunak responds: “[Mr Starmer] is jumping ahead. We’re still in intensive discussions with the European Union ... I have a good understanding of what is required and I will keep fighting until we get it.”

Starmer warns Sunak Tory ‘irreconcilables’ will not accept deal

12:15 , Josh Salisbury

Labour’s Keir Starmer has warned Rishi Sunak that the “irreconcilables” on the Conservative Party backbenches will not accept a deal unless there is no role for the European Court of Justice in Northern Ireland.

“So will the Prime Minister be honest with them and tell them that’s not going to happen?” he asks.

Mr Sunak responds: “For [Mr Starmer] to talk about a deal he hasn’t even seen, that we’re still negoiating, that isn’t finalised ... It’s his usual position when it comes to the European Union. It gives the EU a blank cheque and agrees to anything they offer.

“It’s not a strategy, it’s surrender.”

Sunak says Starmer ‘wouldn’t stick up for Britain’ on Brexit

12:19 , Josh Salisbury

Rishi Sunak has accused Labour’s Keir Starmer of “wanting to put the EU first” in his suggested approach to the Northern Ireland deal.

“On these questions, [he] said he would respect the result of the referendum, and then he promised to back a second one.

“All the while, he was constantly voting to frustrate Brexit. And I know what the British people know: On this question he can’t be trusted to stick up for Britain.”

Responding to Tory cheers, Mr Starmer responds: “Mr Speaker, the sound you hear is them cheering the Prime Minister pulling the wool over their eyes.”

Starmer accuses Sunak of lacking courage to confront Eurosceptic Tory backbenchers

12:27 , Josh Salisbury

Labour’s Keir Starmer accuses Rishi Sunak of lacking the courage to take on the “malcontents, the reckless, the wreckers” on the Tory party backbenches.

“I’m here to tell him that he doesn’t need to worry about that, because we will put country before party and ensure Labour votes will get it through,” he says.

“He should accept our offer, ignore the howls of indignation from those on his side who will never take yes for an answer. Why doesn’t he just get on with it?”

Mr Sunak says he is listening to the concerns of people in Northern Ireland and accuses Mr Starmer of always reserving the right to change his mind.

Sunak: I’ve heard ‘loud and clear’ DUP concerns over Northern Ireland deal

12:37 , Josh Salisbury

The Democratic Unionist Party’s Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has told Rishi Sunak it is “unacceptable” that Northern Ireland has a protocol which “harms our place in the United Kingdom”.

He asked Mr Sunak: “Does the Prime Minister accept how important the constitutional and democratic issues are in relation to getting a solution?

“Will he agree with me that it is unacceptable that EU laws are imposed on Northern Ireland with no democratic scrutiny or consent?”

He asks the PM to commit to rewriting the legally binding treaty in any agreed deal.

“I have heard loud and clear that he wants and needs these issues so that he has a basis to work with others to restore power-sharing and I know that is genuine,” said Mr Sunak.

He adds: “I can ensure him that I agree addressing the democratic deficit is an essential part of- the negoiations that remain ongoing with the European Union.”

Rishi Sunak speaks to Ursula von der Leyen

13:04 , Sarah Harvey

Rishi Sunak has spoken to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen regarding the Northern Ireland Protocol and will have further talks in the coming days, Downing Street has said.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said the call took place on Tuesday evening.

"The leaders discussed the good progress made in the negotiations. Intensive discussions continue. They agreed to speak again in the coming days," the spokesman.

Mr Sunak will speak virtually to Northern Ireland businesses later on Wednesday.

Downing Street not getting into 'hypotheticals’ on a Northern Ireland Protocol deal

13:18 , Barney Davis

The Prime Minister’s press secretary told reporters: “We are not going to get ahead of ourselves… We would be getting into hypotheticals to talk about a vote.”

“We don’t have a deal yet so I am not going to get into hypothetical,” the spokeswoman said when asked by reporters about Sir Keir Starmer’s call for a vote in Parliament.

Asked about the Prime Minister’s response on Wednesday, the spokeswoman said: “Parliament will express their views, but beyond that I am not getting into hypotheticals.”

Earlier they said: “It is a longstanding position of the Government that we want to resolve the issues in partnership with the EU by negotiation rather than legislate domestically.

“In the absence of that negotiated solution, the Protocol Bill is an important piece of legislation to ensure we safeguard Northern Ireland’s position in the Union.”

Rail strike negotiations in ‘hiatus’ after rejection of latest offer

13:36 , Barney Davis

Negotiations with the biggest union involved in rail strikes are in “hiatus” after the latest offer was rejected without a vote, the boss of Network Rail said.

Chief executive Andrew Haines said the Government-owned company is “not refusing to talk” to the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) but there is “a difference between talks and meaningful negotiations”.

Network Rail is bitterly frustrated that the union refused to put its proposal aimed at resolving the bitter dispute over jobs, pay and conditions to a vote of its members.

Fresh strikes beginning on March 16 were announced last week.

Rishi Sunak still not publishing tax returns despite promising them by Christmas

13:47 , Barney Davis

Byline Times editor Adam Bienkov has claimed that the Prime Minister has continued to dodge publishing his tax returns despite promising them for months.

On January 18, Rishi Sunak’s press secretary told journalists: “He said that he would do it and we will do it. He said before Christmas that he would publish them and we will do that in a very short time.”

Asked whether ministers should pay their taxes on time, she said: “Yes, of course.”

Downing Street says ‘regrettable’ NEU going ahead with teacher strikes

13:52 , Barney Davis

Downing Street said the offer of talks with the National Education Union (NEU) would be put in jeopardy if planned strike action is not called off.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We’re obviously disappointed given I think the NEU and many other unions have wanted to talk about pay and have wanted to have these discussions for some time.

“We are inviting them to have those discussions, so it is obviously regrettable they are not choosing to pause strike action.

“The discussions and the talks are on the basis that they do stop strike action – there will be no talks, obviously, if they do not take that step.”

Paramedics to strike on March 8

14:16 , Josh Salisbury

Ambulance and other health workers in Unison will strike on March 8 in an escalation of the long-running dispute over pay, the union has announced.

The strike will include members of the London Ambulance Service.

It comes after nursing strikes scheduled to take place next Wednesday were paused after the Government announced that it would hold “intensive talks” with the Royal College of Nursing.

Unison’s announcement suggests that strikes affecting other health workers - including paramedics, call handlers and physiotherapists - will proceed regardless of the breakthrough with the nursing union.

Read our full story here.

DUP leader: ‘Democratic deficits’ in Northern Ireland Protocol ‘not acceptable'

14:39 , Josh Salisbury

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told the Commons the current "democratic deficit" in Northern Ireland's arrangements is "not acceptable".

The chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Conservative MP Simon Hoare, intervened and asked Sir Jeffrey if he sees "any merit in the way that the EU and the Government of Norway, and ministers there, deal with that issue where rules will apply but they are not members of the European Union".

Sir Jeffrey said: "Norway is a sovereign country, Northern Ireland is not, and Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, and it is the Government of the United Kingdom that is the sovereign authority in these matters.

"So, we need to look at this not just at the level of our democratic institutions in Northern Ireland, but we also need to look at what mechanisms are there for the Government of the United Kingdom to intervene in circumstances where the internal market of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland's place within it is threatened by EU laws."

He said any arrangements require a "safeguard that protects the Acts of Union, Article 6, our right to trade within the internal market of the United Kingdom without barriers being put in our way".

He said on the potential reform of Northern Ireland's political institutions: "If the road that some want to take on reform is exclusion, if the road that some want to take on reform is majority rule, if the road that some want to take abandons the principle of cross-community consensus in Northern Ireland, that will not be acceptable to my party now or at any stage in the future."

Teacher strikes ‘could be paused’ if talks progress

15:33 , Josh Salisbury

Teacher strikes planned for next week could be paused if “real progress” can be made in negotiations over pay, the National Education Union (NEU) has said.

The teaching union said it was “prepared to recommend a pause to strikes next week” to its national executive committee on Saturday in a “sign of goodwill”, but only if “substantive progress” can be made in talks.

It comes after Education Secretary Gillian Keegan wrote to teaching unions inviting them to “formal talks on pay, conditions and reform” on the condition that next week’s strike action in England and Wales is cancelled.

Downing Street said the offer of talks with the NEU would be put in jeopardy if planned walkouts by teachers were not called off.

Home Secretary welcomes ruling in Shamima Begum case

16:29 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has welcomed today’s decision regarding the citizenship of Shamima Begum.

Ms Begum’s British citizenship was revoked on national security grounds after she travelled to so-called Islamic State-controlled territory in Syria. On Wednesday, she lost the latest stage of her legal battle with the Government over the ruling.

Support for Sunak slides amid pessimism about direction of UK, poll finds

16:42 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Rishi Sunak’s approval rating has reached its lowest point yet amid widespread pessimism about Brexit and the direction of the UK, a poll has found.

Just 27 per cent of people told pollster Ipsos that they had a favourable opinion of the Prime Minister in a survey carried out between February 10 and 15, while 46 per cent said they had an unfavourable view.

A month earlier, 30 per cent of people said they held a favourable view of Mr Sunak and 39 per cent said they held an unfavourable one.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak leaving 10 Downing Street to attend Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday (PA)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak leaving 10 Downing Street to attend Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday (PA)

The figures are the worst of Mr Sunak’s premiership and are more in line with the overall favourability rating of his party and his predecessor-but-one Boris Johnson.

The poll of 2,200 British adults found 25 per cent had a favourable view of the Conservatives, up from 20 per cent when Mr Sunak took over.

Meanwhile Mr Sunak’s opponent, Sir Keir Starmer, continues to outpoll him with a favourability score of 32 per cent, although 39 per cent of people said they had an unfavourable view of the Labour leader.

Defence Secretary praises ‘dedication’ of Ukrainian soldiers training on British tanks

17:32 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has praised the “dedication and determination” of Ukrainian soldiers being trained to operate British Challenger 2 tanks donated for the war against Russia.

The Secretary of State, who is a former soldier himself, met the troops training at Bovington Camp in Dorset on Wednesday, and told them: “Britain is going to continue with you until the end.

 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

“We are not in it for a period, we are in it until we defeat Russia in Ukraine and send them home.”

He added: “We will keep with you, and from Britain’s point of view the message to Russia is we are not giving up and we are not going away.”


After being driven by a Ukrainian soldier in a Challenger training tank, he said: “You can see their dedication, they are determined and their work ethos is extraordinary, they are here to do a job which is to train with us to get back into the battle as soon as they can.”

A total of 56 Ukrainians are being trained by the British Army to operate the 14 Challenger 2 tanks being donated by the UK.

UK to hold one minute’s silence for Ukraine on one-year anniversary of invasion

17:38 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Rishi Sunak has announced the UK will observe a minute’s silence at 11am on Friday (February 24) to mark the one-year anniversary of Russia invading Ukraine.

The Prime Minister said the national moment will pay tribute to Ukrainians and highlight the UK’s solidarity with the country, two weeks after president Volodymyr Zelensky visited.

Individuals and businesses will be encouraged to participate in taking one minute to reflect.

Read more here.

UK ‘on track’ to meet 300,000 EV charging points target by 2030, minister says

17:57 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

The UK is “on track” to meet the Government’s target of 300,000 new electric car chargers by 2030, a transport minister said amid calls to speed up the rollout.

Opening a Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday, the Conservative chair of the health and social care committee Steve Brine asked: “Are we really ready to fully transition to electric vehicles?”

He went on: “Last March in the Government’s electric vehicle infrastructure strategy, it highlighted that 300,000 public electric charging points would be needed by 2030 across the UK to meet the demand following the phase-out of petrol and diesel vehicles.

Rail minister Huw Merriman (PA Wire)
Rail minister Huw Merriman (PA Wire)

“However, in January of this year, just last month, it was reported just over 37,000 of such devices have been installed.”

But rail minister Huw Merriman told MPs that ministers expect “at least 300,000 public charge points will be installed across the UK by 2030”.

He cited a report by New AutoMotive titled ‘On the Road to 2030’, which said the “charge point rollout is progressing at an adequate pace, growing by a third every 12 months and the UK is on track to meet the expected 300,000 public charges by the end of 2030”.

“So, don’t just take my word for it,” the transport minister added.

Braverman: Frustrations over hotels for migrants ‘understandable’

19:45 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Home Secretary Suella Braverman said housing asylum seekers in hotels is causing “understandable tensions” following ugly clashes between protesters.

She said violence was “never acceptable” but “we are all frustrated with the situation” and it is not “racist or bigoted” to acknowledge the problems caused to communities.

Anti-migrant protesters have gathered in recent weeks outside hotels in Knowsley, Merseyside and Rotherham, South Yorkshire, where they have clashed with counter-demonstrators.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman (PA Wire)
Home Secretary Suella Braverman (PA Wire)

Asked if she supported the protesters, Ms Braverman said: “I very much understand people’s frustrations with hotels being occupied by large numbers of illegal immigrants or asylum seekers.”

In an interview with GB News, Ms Braverman said: “Violence is never acceptable and intimidation, harassment, any forms of abuse to anybody should be condemned and I condemn them in the fullest possible terms.

“And it’s clear that we have an unsustainable situation in towns and cities around our country whereby, because of the overwhelming numbers of people arriving here illegally and our legal duties to accommodate them, we are now having to house them in hotels.

“And that is causing understandable tensions within communities, pressures on local resources and is frankly unsustainable.”

Thank you and goodnight

20:42 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks

That’s all from our live blog for today! Thanks for following along.

For more coverage, visit the Evening Standard’s politics page.