Rishi Sunak desperately scrambled to contain a Tory revolt over his new Brexit deal today after Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Priti Patel vowed to oppose the plan.
The premier insisted the Windsor Framework is a ‘good deal’ for Northern Ireland despite a series of big beasts joining the DUP in the first crunch vote this afternoon.
Speaking at PMQs, Mr Sunak argued that the package will protect the province’s ‘place in our previous union’.
However, nerves are jangling in No10 after Mr Johnson, who had already voiced concerns about the deal brokered with Brussels, confirmed he will be going against the ‘Stormont Brake’ in the Commons later.
Sources close to Ms Truss said she had concluded the proposal ‘does not satisfactorily resolve the issues thrown up by the Protocol and almost fatally impinges on the UK’s ability to diverge from EU rules and regulations’.
Former Cabinet ministers Priti Patel, Iain Duncan Smith and Jacob Rees-Mogg are also voting against. And in a fresh blow, the Eurosceptic ERG bloc has urged members to rebel – raising fears the tally could hit 40.
In a sign of the rising Conservative tensions, Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker – who once described himself as the ‘Brexit hard man’ – warned this morning that Mr Johnson risks looking like a ‘pound shop Nigel Farage’. He appealed for colleagues to ‘bank the win’ and move on.
A big rebellion will be damaging for Mr Sunak, especially if he is left relying on Labour support to get the measures through.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has already announced he will be giving the final go-ahead for the Windsor Framework at a meeting with the EU’s Maros Sefcovic on Friday.
Rishi Sunak insisted the Windsor Framework is a ‘good deal’ for Northern Ireland despite a series of big beasts joining the DUP in the first crunch vote this afternoon
Boris Johnson (right) and Priti Patel (left) are voting against the Windsor Framework today
Sources close to Liz Truss said she had concluded the proposal ‘does not satisfactorily resolve the issues thrown up by the Protocol and almost fatally impinges on the UK’s ability to diverge from EU rules and regulations’
Mr Johnson – who is facing a four-hour Partygate showdown with the Privileges Committee amid the Brexit drama – said in a statement overnight that the terms are ‘not acceptable’.
‘I will be voting against the proposed arrangements today,’ he said.
‘Instead, the best course of action is to proceed with the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, and make sure that we take back control.’
Which Tories are rebelling against Rishi Sunak’s Brexit plan?
MPs are voting on Rishi Sunak’s Windsor Framework this afternoon.
Tories who have said they will vote against it are:
- Boris Johnson
- Liz Truss
- Simon Clarke
- James Duddridge
- Sir Iain Duncan Smith
- David Jones
- Priti Patel
- Peter Bone
- Andrea Jenkyns
- Mark Francois
- Nadine Dorries
- Jacob Rees-Mogg
- Craig Mackinlay
The DUP has already said its eight MPs will vote against the regulation to implement the Stormont brake as it continues to seek changes to the overall framework.
Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he will engage with the Government for ‘clarification, reworking and change’.
‘I have consistently indicated that fundamental problems remain notwithstanding progress made,’ he tweeted.
‘Consequently there is not a sustainable basis at this stage to enable us to restore Stormont.
‘We will vote against the proposal today & continue to engage with the Government to secure clarification, reworking & change.
‘Our consultation also continues & we are giving people & businesses the opportunity to have their voice heard.’
Mr Johnson, who agreed the original Northern Ireland Protocol with Brussels as a way to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, had earlier this month indicated that he would find it ‘very difficult’ to support the Windsor agreement.
Doubts are swirling about the size of the Tory rebellion when the secondary legislation on the Stormont brake comes before MPs.
Ministers have been hoping the numbers will be limited to around a dozen, meaning the government can carry the day without help from Labour.
The European Research Group (ERG) said the brake, which is intended to provide a veto on the imposition of new EU regulations in Northern Ireland, is ‘practically useless’ following an analysis of the framework by its ‘star chamber’ of lawyers.
It has recommended that members – claimed to number around 30 – vote against the measure.
While the DUP is not in a position to block it, their opposition suggests that an early return to powersharing at Stormont is highly unlikely.
The Executive and Assembly have been suspended since the DUP walked out last year in protest at the way the protocol was operating, saying it weakened Northern Ireland’s position in the UK.
Quizzed by journalists in Whitehall this morning, Mr Baker urged Mr Johnson not to risk becoming ‘a pound shop Nigel Farage’ and also appealed to Ms Truss to come on board.
‘Both of them should be backing the Windsor Framework today,’ he said.
‘What I would say is they are both better than this. We’ve partly reached this point thanks to Liz Truss setting the process in train.
‘And today’s measures are better, of course, than the protocol that Boris Johnson put in place, a protocol which he spoke about and those things turned out not to be accurate.
‘So he has a choice: he can be remembered for the great acts of statecraft that he achieved or he can risk looking like a pound shop Nigel Farage.
‘I hope he chooses to be remembered as a statesman.’
Downing Street has indicated that there could be further votes in the weeks ahead on the statutory instruments needed to implement other elements of the framework.
However, there is frustration among some MPs that Mr Sunak is resisting calls for an overall vote on the whole framework document.
Conservative backbencher Peter Bone said he is ‘pretty miffed’ about the Government’s approach to a vote as he signalled that he could join Mr Johnson in voting against this part of the deal.
‘I’m really pretty miffed that the Government is avoiding scrutiny on this, and on the brake itself, it seems to fail all the tests,’ Mr Bone, who was deputy leader of the House for three months last year, told Sky News.
‘If that is the case, I’m going to listen to the debate. I’m going to go meetings this morning, but, if I had to vote at this moment in time, I should vote against.’