Senior Tories have stepped up warnings to Rishi Sunak not to try to strike a Brexit deal with Brussels which is unacceptable to Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris and the European Commission’s Maros Sefcovic will hold talks by video link on Monday afternoon, fuelling speculation that an agreement to resolve the problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol is close.
However the reports have alarmed some committed Tory Brexiteers as well as some senior figures in the DUP who fear the Government is giving too much ground to the EU.
No 10 denied suggestions the Prime Minister had been forced to delay an announcement – which had been widely expected as early as this week – amid concerns of a backlash at Westminster.
The veteran Tory Eurosceptic Sir Bernard Jenkin said that any deal which did not lead to a return to powersharing at the Stormont Assembly by the DUP – which walked out in protest at the protocol – would be “completely disastrous”.
“If it doesn’t get the support of both communities in Northern Ireland it is just going to make things worse because it will cement in place an agreement that has destroyed powersharing in Northern Ireland,” he told Times Radio.
Sammy Wilson, the DUP chief whip at Westminster, accused ministers of going into the negotiations with the EU with “an attitude of defeat” and said that he did not expect to see a deal announced this week.
“If a deal is agreed which still keeps us in the EU single market, as ministers in the Northern Ireland Assembly we would be required by law to implement that deal and we are not going to do that because we believe such an arrangement is designed to take us out of the United Kingdom,” he told Sky News.
“We are British and we expect to be governed by British law, not Brussels law. We would certainly not collaborate in administering Brussels law in our part of the United Kingdom.”
Meanwhile Conservative former cabinet minister Simon Clarke has backed a call by Boris Johnson for ministers to press on with legislation enabling them to override parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
He said the Protocol Bill, currently paused in the House of Lords, would strengthen the hand of ministers in negotiations and could ultimately provide a better solution than a new deal with the EU.
“It is absolutely imperative tactically to give our negotiators the strongest possible hand to play with Brussels,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“If the perception is there that the Bill is moribund then that will, I am afraid, weaken our hand very considerably.
“We need to make sure that if a deal is struck here it is genuinely a better one than that we can achieve through our own legislation to fix the protocol.”
Mr Johnson’s intervention over the weekend – his first on Brexit since departing No 10 – has raised concerns over a potential rebellion by Eurosceptic Tory backbenchers if Mr Sunak’s changes are put to a vote in Parliament.
Some Tories quickly sided with the former prime minister, with Lord Frost – who negotiated Mr Johnson’s original Brexit deal – urging the Government to “push on with the Protocol Bill”.
However Mr Clarke, a strong supporter of both Mr Johnson and his successor Liz Truss, denied he was trying to make trouble for Mr Sunak.
“Quite the opposite. I want to see this issue fixed. It is vital for the Conservative Party,” he said.