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Boris Johnson Will Find It "Very Difficult" To Vote For Rishi Sunak's Northern Ireland Deal

Boris Johnson has made a major intervention over the new Brexit deal (Alamy)

3 min read

Boris Johnson has said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's Windsor Framework deal is "not about the UK taking back control" and that he would struggle to support it in his first public comments on the agreement.

The new deal, struck between the UK and the EU significantly reduces trade friction in Northern Ireland by slashing the number of border checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea, and provides a so-called Stormont Break which would allow the Irish Assembly to veto new or updated EU laws which would be applied in Northern Ireland.

Sunak's deal has been cautiously welcomed by MPs, including some hardline Tory Brexiteers, but still requires final approval from Northern Ireland's DUP.

But in a major speech on Thursday, Johnson criticised the decision to drop the original Northern Ireland Protocol which he secured.

"When I look at the deal, I have mixed feelings. I am conscious of, and I am not going to be thanked for saying this, but I think it is my job to do so, this is not about the UK taking back control," he said.

"This is a version of what was offered to Liz Truss. This is the EU allowing us to do what we want by their laws, not ours."

He added: "We've got to hope it works and genuinely reduces frictions. What it will not do is allow goods made in Northern Ireland to UK standards unless they're also made to EU standards."

Johnson said that while "we have to hope" the deal would be successful, he claimed he would find it "very difficult" to vote for it.

The original protocol, agreed as part of the Brexit divorce agreements, moved regulatory and custom processes to the Irish Sea and created additional costs and red tape for businesses in Northern Ireland. The ability for UK ministers to scrap parts of the protocol was popular among Brexiteers who believed it provided leverage over the EU, but equally angered senior leaders in the bloc.

"Given that we have got rid of the bill, I can see why so many people are attracted to accepting a compromise," he said.

"I'm going to find it very difficult to vote for something like this myself because I believe that we should have done something different."

Describing the deal as a "drag anchor on divergence", the former PM criticised the role of the EU in setting laws for Northern Ireland, saying: "Who votes for the people who will make the single market laws? About what pets can be taken to Northern Ireland or what goods can be sold there?"

The comments by Johnson, who remains influential among Brexiteer Conservatives, are likely to reinflame tensions over Sunak's Brexit deal when it is put before MPs.

Johnson has already reportedly told the DUP to think hard about the deal before sigining off on it, especially around concerns linked to the ongoing role of the European Court of Justice in Northern Ireland.

But Johnson also took responsibility for problems in the original deal which led to the breakdown of powersharing agreements in Stormont after DUP frustration over the deal.

"I thought those checks would not be onerous since there isn't that much stuff that falls into that category; most of the goods stay in Northern Ireland."

He added: "It's all my fault, I fully accept responsibility."

Peers have also warned the government's decision to press ahead with repealing thousands of pieces of EU legislation by the end of the year could scupper the plan with shadow cabinet minister Baroness Jenny Chapman telling PoliticsHome that the ongoing lack of functioning government in Northern Ireland and the sunset clause in the in the Retained EU Law bill set for the end of this year, could mean “important provisions may not appear on the government's dashboard” in time.

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