Tory MPs warn Sunak against dropping Northern Ireland Protocol Bill
The British Prime Minister aims to discard the bill as part of a greater Brexit deal with the EU.
A potential decision by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to drop a bill that gives the government power to unilaterally override the Northern Ireland Protocol has led to the rise of some voices calling him against the step, including UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman and former PM Boris Johnson, The Guardian reported.
Northern Ireland Protocol Bill (NIPB), introduced by Liz Truss when she was Foreign Minister, would allow the government to unilaterally override parts of the Brexit treaty - without the approval of Northern Ireland - and ditching the bill is seen as a gesture of good faith when Brexit agreement is reached on the application of the protocol.
Over the past weekend, people close to Johnson urged the Prime Minister to keep the bill as leverage as hopes of reaching a trade deal with Northern Ireland - as part of the Brexit negotiations with the EU - by Tuesday fade away.
Johnson considers that dropping the bill would be a “great mistake”.
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Sunak aimed to lock a deal with Brussels on post-Brexit trade rules with Northern Ireland as early as this week and has fought against Johnson's confrontational approach.
According to the report, top Conservative officials shed doubts whether a deal that is not backed by the Democratic Unionist party would ultimately serve the goal intended, however, sources in Sunak's government stressed that the agreement's text will not be revealed to the DUP before it was signed nor will they be granted a veto over its details.
Following video link talks with Maros Sefcovic, the VP of the European Commission for Interinstitutional Relations, UK's Foreign Minister James Cleverly said there is more work left to do on the agreement, noting that he will hold further discussions with Sefcovic over the week, yet a deal is not yet secured.
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Home Secretary Suella Braverman, a former member of the European Research Group (ERG) - a hardline Brexit group within the Conservative party - warned that the issue of dropping the bill must be handled with caution.
Braverman told the BBC, “We’ve been aware for some time now of challenges relating to trade, customs and sovereignty when it comes to Northern Ireland and the NI protocol."
The Home Secretary continued, “The legislation that the government introduced is one of the biggest tools we have in solving the problem on the Irish Sea. It’s clear and it’s right that the PM is committed to finding a pragmatic solution to resolve these issues which are affecting the people of Northern Ireland, and that we find a solution that’s pragmatic and workable both for the EU and the UK.”
Sunak will continue talks with the DUP and the ERG but is counting on them moving fast if a deal with the EU is reached.
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According to the news site, Northern Ireland Minister Steve Baker took part in an ERG meeting on Monday that reportedly witnessed “a lot of fear of a sell out” and further concerns that division might truck the Tory party, which might affect future poll results.
The government will announce directly when a deal on the Northern Ireland protocol is reached in hopes that European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, could come to London and conclude it.
Conservative MPs are still hoping that the deal is presented in the House of Commons to be voted upon, but so far, government officials have declined such requests.
Sammy Wilson, a DUP MP, reiterated his party's position that if the government concludes a deal with the EU without the [DUP] consensus, a boycott of Northern Ireland’s devolved assembly would continue.
When asked by Sky News if he expected an agreement between the government and the DUP to be reached this week, Wilson responded, “No, I don’t," adding that Sunak has “barriers and hills to climb” and that the government had “gone into these negotiations with an attitude of defeat, almost."
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Senior Conservatives, including Sunak supporters, considered that proceeding with talks with the DUP's support is pointless. “The purpose of the negotiations was to get a deal that would allow DUP to go back into government in Stormont,” a former cabinet minister said. “So DUP support for a deal is the key. Without DUP support, it is pointless.”
Deputy chair of the ERG David Jones stated that “the problem is that DUP has told No 10 [Downing Street] that whatever they agree needs to meet the ‘seven tests’."
“One of those is that the people of Northern Ireland have to have a say in the laws that govern them, but it is hard to see how they do that without an entirely new agreement. What they are talking about now is some sort of new interpretation of the existing agreement, not a completely new one.”
Jones noted that DUP's request to look at the full text of the agreement will probably be rejected.
Other Brexit-supporter MPs, such as Simon Clarke and Jacob Rees-Mogg, have also echoed the position of Johnson and Braverman.
The bill is currently frozen in the House of Lords at the report stage, while senior sources told the news site that doubts are emerging regarding the legislation's legality.
Clarke considered it crucial to retain the bill as a backup option for the government.
“We need to make sure that if a deal is struck here, this is genuinely a better one than that which we can achieve through our own legislation to fix the protocol,” he stated.
“And I think that is quite a high bar because it is going to involve the EU accepting that Northern Ireland cannot be subjected either to EU law or in the single market and that would be a big move on their part.”
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