‘We Are Not Stupid’ Eurosceptic Tory MP Mark Francois Warns Rishi Sunak

ERG chairman Mark Francois.
ERG chairman Mark Francois.

ERG chairman Mark Francois.

Mark Francois has said EU law must be “expunged” from Northern Ireland, warning ministers “we’re not stupid”.

The Tory Brexiteer said Northern Ireland must be treated “on the same basis” as England, Scotland and Wales.

Francois is chairman of the European Research Group [ERG], a band of Eurosceptic Tory MPs, which has been heaping pressure on Rishi Sunak as he seeks to negotiate a new NI Brexit deal.

Negotiators are said to be “on the cusp of a deal” over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

What Is The Northern Ireland Protocol?

It is a trading arrangement, negotiated during Brexit talks, to allow goods to be transported across the Irish land border without the need for checks.

The deal was aimed at protecting the delicate Good Friday Agreement and to avoid putting up a hard border between NI and the Republic.

However, unionist parties argue that the protocol instead places an effective border across the Irish Sea, undermining Northern Ireland’s place within the UK.

NI’s largest unionist party, the DUP, is refusing to take part in the power-sharing government unless its concerns are resolved.

There are hopes that a fresh deal will secure the return of powersharing at Stormont, after the Democratic Unionist Party [DUP] walked out in protest over the protocol last February.

Francois insisted that any new deal would need the support of the DUP which is NI’s largest unionist party.

“If the DUP don’t consent to the deal, then it’s simply not going to fly,” Francois told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday.

Just putting a couple of intermediate phases in but in a situation where you still end up with the European Court of Justice is effectively sophistry. I mean, we’re not stupid.Mark Francois

The DUP has set seven tests it says must be passed before they can back any deal, including the removal of the European Court of Justice’s [ECJ] role in overseeing any new agreement.

Both the DUP and the ERG look set to oppose the deal unless the issue of the supremacy of EU law is resolved.

Former minister Francois warned that even a reduced role for the ECJ over Northern Ireland was not “good enough”.

He made the comments in response to an interview with deputy prime minister Dominic Raab who indicated that if trade was made easier by a revised deal, then there would be less of a role for the ECJ.

Francois responded: “Less of a role is not enough. Just putting a couple of intermediate phases in but in a situation where you still end up with the European Court of Justice is effectively sophistry. I mean, we’re not stupid.

“What we want is a situation where EU law is expunged from Northern Ireland, so it is treated on the same basis as England, Scotland and Wales.”

Asked whether he would not back any deal if the ECJ has any role in it, he said: “We have left the European Union. It doesn’t have that role now in England or in Scotland or in Wales.

“So, if we’re going to treat Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom, then we have to get rid of the EU law in Northern Ireland. We’ve been absolutely consistent on this.”

Raab suggested that a fresh Northern Ireland Brexit deal is expected “in a matter of days”.

A new agreement has looked close to being announced for almost a week and Raab’s comments suggest an announcement is imminent.

According to The Sun On Sunday, Sunak will invite Cabinet ministers into No.10 on Sunday to brief them on the details of what he has secured so far.

It follows interventions from Boris Johnson and rumblings of a potential rebellion from Tory backbenchers.

Johnson recently implored Sunak not to drop his Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which would unilaterally overwrite parts of the treaty.