Eurosceptic Tory MPs have warned Rishi Sunak about the new Brexit deal
Senior Conservative Eurosceptic MPs have rejected Rishi Sunak’s new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland, saying one of its key pillars was “practically useless” and failed to address concerns about EU law remaining in place in the region.
The Windsor framework, presented last month by Sun and Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, was aimed at easing the friction created in the region by the Northern Ireland Protocol, the post-Brexit trade deals that have strained relations between the EU and the UK, and they paralyzed the region’s politics. .
On Wednesday, MPs can vote on a key element of the deal, the so-called “Stormont brake” – a mechanism that allows members of the Northern Ireland assembly to object to the introduction of new EU rules.
The new deal also included measures to reduce trade friction between Britain and Northern Ireland, including a ‘green’ lane system for goods that are not at risk of being sent to the EU.
But unionists and Brexiters say the Windsor framework does not go far enough to deal with the volume of EU legislation that will apply in the region.
Mark Francois, chairman of the Eurosceptic Tory MPs’ European Research Group, whose “star chamber” has been investigating the deal, indicated on Tuesday that they still had a number of concerns.
He declined to confirm how many of the MPs would vote against him, saying MPs would reconvene within the next 24 hours to make a final ruling.
“The star chamber’s main findings are: Northern Ireland will continue to be governed by EU law; the rights of its people under the Act of Union of 1800 are not restored; the green lane is not really a green lane at all,” he told reporters.
“The Stormont brake is virtually useless and the frame itself has no way out except through an extremely complex legal process.”
But Downing Street defended the measure. “The brake addresses the democratic deficit and provides clear democratic safeguards for the people of Northern Ireland,” the Prime Minister’s spokesman said.
Northern Ireland Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris argued that the framework was an “important opportunity for Northern Ireland to turn around”, adding that it was “not perfect” but a “significant step forward” for the region.
Heaton-Harris also argued that there had been “a lot of speculation” about what the Stormont brake actually did, adding that it was important to introduce it “sooner rather than later”.
One government minister expected the ERG, whose influence has waned since the fierce Brexit battles under former prime minister Theresa May, was likely to be “divided” in its final verdict.
The ERG’s announcement comes after the Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland’s largest pro-UK force, said it would vote no on the deal. It has boycotted the region’s Stormont assembly and power-sharing executive since last May to get London to meet its demands.
The DUP says Sunak’s deal does not sufficiently protect Northern Ireland’s status within the UK or its ability to trade with Britain.
Opposition from the ERG and the DUP does not prevent the measure from being passed, as the opposition Labor Party supported it. However, the DUP’s stance makes a quick return to Stormont difficult and represents a symbolic blow to the Prime Minister.
“This is not about softening or getting tough, it’s about getting the future of Northern Ireland right,” said DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who is considered a moderate and committed devolutionist.
“Our goal is to restore devolution with a solid foundation so that it can provide stability for the next generation. . . ignoring Unionists’ concerns rather than addressing them will not help Northern Ireland move forward,” he said.
On Tuesday, the 27 member states of the EU unanimously accepted the main proposed amendments to the protocol.
After the decision, Jessika Roswall, Sweden’s minister for Europe, who holds the position of EU presidency, said that the decision had opened a “new chapter” in relations with the United Kingdom. “In times of crisis. . . it is vital that the EU and the UK can work together as allies,” he said.
Additional reporting from Andy Bounds in Brussels