Tory MPs accuse Downing Street of ‘playing fast and loose’ on Brexit deal vote

Eurosceptic Tory MPs have accused Rishi Sunak’s government of “playing fast and loose” by putting a key vote on the prime minister’s Brexit deal in Northern Ireland into a parliamentary debate next week.

Conservative MPs were expecting a vote on the Common Windsor Framework agreed by the UK and EU last month, which aims to review post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland.

But instead, the Commons will get a series of votes over the next few days on elements of the Brexit deal through a piece of secondary legislation known as a statutory instrument, which is often debated for just 90 minutes.

On Wednesday, MPs will vote on the most important of the instruments linked to the so-called Stormont brake, which gives London an effective veto over new EU legislation on trade in Northern Ireland.

Downing Street made clear this week that it sees the vote on the brake as “essentially a vote on the whole deal”, given its key role in the wider Windsor framework.

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“We think the Stormont brake is at the heart of the frame. As a matter of principle, there is no need to vote on the framework, but obviously the Prime Minister has made a commitment,” said No. 10.

The government will easily pass the legislation through parliament because the Northern Ireland agreement is supported by the Labor Party, the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats.

But Downing Street remains wary of hardline Tory Brexiters from the European Research Group and representatives of the Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland’s main unionist party. Its leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, called for “further clarification, revision and change” of the agreement.

Number 10 is particularly worried about the DUP because if it rejects the deal, the party could continue its boycott of the region’s Stormont assembly, which began in May 2022.

Péter Csont, a former Eurosceptic minister, says it is “weird” that the government does not vote on the entire framework.

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“The vote on the legislative instrument is not what was promised. Whenever the government tries to play fast and loose with parliament, the government loses,” he said, adding: “They really shouldn’t be doing that.”

Another Conservative Brexiter MP said the SI vote would actually be a “meaningful vote” that would signal the Commons’ position on the overall deal.

“A lot of people are concerned that you can get up to 90 minutes in an SI debate,” he said. – It can hardly be said that you can fully get to know the opinions of the members of the House within such a short time.

Neither the ERG nor the DUP have said how they will vote next week, although ERG chairman Mark Francois has indicated that the group’s “star chamber” of lawyers will publish its verdict as early as Monday.

Meanwhile, former prime minister Boris Johnson has expressed concern about the deal, saying he would find it “very difficult” to support.

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Johnson faces his own test next Wednesday when he appears before the Commons’ Privileges Committee. A cross-party group of MPs is investigating whether Johnson lied when he told parliament he had no knowledge of parties breaking lockdowns in Downing Street at the height of the pandemic.

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