Sunak faces possible Tory revolt over his new Brexit deal with Brussels

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is braced for a possible Tory backbench rebellion as MPs vote on a key plank of his new deal with Brussels on post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland.

With Labour backing the Windsor Framework agreement signed last month, the Government should win the Commons division comfortably, despite criticism from some hardline Tory Brexiteers.

On Tuesday, the European Research Group (ERG) said the so-called Stormont brake, intended to provide a veto on the imposition of new EU regulations in Northern Ireland, was “practically useless”.

Mark Francois
ERG chairman Mark Francois has said a key element of the deal is ‘practically useless’ (Victoria Jones/PA)

Following an analysis of the framework by its “star chamber” of lawyers, it said that it offered only “limited legal changes” and that EU law would remain supreme in Northern Ireland.

ERG chairman Mark Francois, however, declined to say what members would do in the vote ahead of a further meeting of the group on Wednesday.

Mr Sunak will however be concerned to ensure that any revolt is as contained as far as possible, amid fears of a damaging new outbreak of internal Tory feuding over Europe.

The DUP has already said its eight MPs will vote against the regulation to implement the Stormont brake as it continues to seek changes to the overall framework.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said his party still wants changes to the agreement (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

Party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said that while it represents an improvement on the Northern Ireland Protocol negotiated by former PM Boris Johnson, which created a customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of UK, there were still “fundamental problems”.

Downing Street has, however, shown no inclination to reopen negotiations with the EU on the terms of the framework, saying that it represents “the best deal for Northern Ireland”.

The  Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “This is a good deal and we continue to urge all parliamentarians to back it.”

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly is due to meet the EU’s Maros Sefcovic in London on Friday to formally adopt the Windsor pact at a meeting of the joint committee on the Withdrawal Agreement.

While the DUP is not in a position to block it, their opposition suggests that an early return to powersharing at Stormont is highly unlikely.

The executive and assembly have been suspended since the DUP walked out last year in protest at the way the protocol was operating, saying it weakened Northern Ireland’s position in the UK.

Downing Street has indicated that there could be further votes in the weeks ahead on the statutory instruments needed to implement other elements of the framework.

However there is frustration among some MPs that Mr Sunak is resisting calls for an overall vote on the whole framework document.