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How Tories are splitting into two tribes on Northern Ireland Brexit deal

UK EU
UK EU

As Westminster awaits details of the latest Brexit deal, splits over how to respond are emerging among Tory Eurosceptics.

Some ardent Brexiteers are willing to accept the agreement Rishi Sunak has reached with Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president.

They say the benefits of the deal to trade in Northern Ireland are much more important than any residual role for European courts.

A second group say they will not be able to support the deal if the Democratic Unionist Party refuses to back it. So far, the DUP has been silent – but it has warned it will not support anything that retains powers for EU judges.

Most prominent in this camp is Lord Howard, the former Conservative leader, who wrote in The Telegraph that he believes Tory MPs should back the deal with the commission even if it is rejected by the DUP and contains some limited role for the European Court of Justice.

The peer, who was home secretary under John Major, said it would “ease the problems which are causing so much frustration in Northern Ireland, remove one of the main obstacles to an improved relationship with the EU and help to make Brexit the success we all want it to be”.

Lord Howard, the former Conservative leader, said Tory MPs should back the deal even if it is rejected by the DUP - Dominic Lipinski/PA
Lord Howard, the former Conservative leader, said Tory MPs should back the deal even if it is rejected by the DUP - Dominic Lipinski/PA

David Davis, a former Brexit secretary, said his “instinct” was to back the agreement, adding: “Sunak is working hard to win Brexit supporters over. I’ve had a call from him. If he needs Labour support [to get a deal through Parliament], it might be mildly embarrassing, but nothing more.”

Martin Vickers, another Tory MP said: “I was a staunch Brexit supporter, but we have to move on. On the basis of the outline [of the deal], I see no problem with it. We should rally round the Prime Minister.”

It appears that Steve Baker, a leading Eurosceptic in government, agrees. He gave photographers the thumbs up when he left Downing Street on Sunday.

Others however say there is no point in Tory MPs accepting a deal – even if it is a good one – unless the DUP does the same. They say that even though they personally would support it, they cannot do if Unionists in Northern Ireland do not.

On Monday, Jacob Rees-Mogg, a former Cabinet minister, said the “devil is in the detail”, but said the DUP would only rejoin the Executive in Northern Ireland if it is happy with the deal.

“From what I have heard, he [Rishi Sunak] has done very well, but I am not sure that he has achieved the objective of getting the DUP back into power-sharing which is the fundamental point of it,” he said.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the former Cabinet minister, says ‘the devil is in the detail’ - Paul Grover for the Telegraph
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the former Cabinet minister, says ‘the devil is in the detail’ - Paul Grover for the Telegraph

He is joined in this camp by Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a former Tory leader, who said: “What isn’t happening is that there is literally no change to the fact that Northern Ireland is going to be forced to be under the ECJ [European Court of Justice] and EU law and regulations. I don’t see how the DUP can come into power-sharing."

Priti Patel, a former home secretary, said: “It’s not about green and red lanes – it’s about, fundamentally, the efficacy and integrity of the UK in ensuring Northern Ireland is absolutely free of EU law and EU regulations.”

Mark Francois, the chairman of the hardline European Research Group, said it wanted EU law “expunged” from Northern Ireland.