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Boris Johnson Told DUP To Be Careful About Rishi Sunak's Northern Ireland Protocol Deal

Boris Johnson (Alamy)

4 min read

Boris Johnson has told Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) figures to be cautious about Rishi Sunak's new "Windsor framework" Northern Ireland Protocol deal, announced alongside the European Union today.

The former prime minister, whose own deal on post-Brexit trade in the region had led to months of deadlock, contacted the DUP on Monday to urge the party to think hard before declaring its support for the agreement between the UK and EU, PoliticsHome understands.

Johnson spoke to the DUP after a report this afternoon claimed that the party led by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was preparing to accept the deal. Donaldson has said that his party continues to scrutinise the deal and has neither accepted or rejected it at this stage.

A spokesperson for Johnson said they would not comment on private discussions.

Johnson's apparent conversation with the DUP is a sign that he could pose opposition to the deal, which Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced today.

The government has already dismissed Johnson's calls to proceed with the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which Johnson introduced while in No 10, confirming in documents today that it would be dropped as part of its pact with Brussels. The contentious legislation would have given ministers the powers to scrap parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol without an agreement with the EU, and faced dozens of amendments in the House of Lords.

Johnson was not in the House of Commons for Sunak's statement outlining the deal on Monday evening, which was well-received on both sides of the house. 

The agreement, called The Windsor Framework, was signed off by Sunak and von der Leyen at a meeting in Windsor at lunch time before Sunak unveiled it to MPs in the House of Commons. 

The Prime Minister said the deal represented a "turning point" for Northern Ireland and would address the practical problems for trade across the Irish Sea that have arisen since Brexit. 

The agreement has received a broadly positive response from senior Brexiteers in the Conservative party after warnings of a large back bench rebellion.

Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker, who used to lead the European Research Group of staunchly pro-Brexit Tory MPs, said it was a "really fantastic result". There had been speculation that Baker would resign from the Northern Ireland office over the terms of the UK-EU agreement.

David Davis, the ex-Brexit Secretary, described the deal as a "remarkable success" and said Sunak had "played a blinder" in his talks with the European Commission since entering No 10.

The key to success of the new agreement, however, is the approval of the DUP, which has boycotted Stormont's Ireland's power-sharing arrangements since early 2022 over its opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Ian Paisley, the DUP MP for North Antrim, has tonight told the BBC that The Windsor Framework "does not cut the mustard” and is no basis for the party to return to government in Belfast.

Donaldson, however, has said the party will assess the terms of the deal to see if it meets their tests, before reaching a decision on whether to support it.

The deal announced today will see the number of checks on trade crossing the Irish Sea reduced significantly through the establishment of a "green lane" for Great Britain goods staying in Northern Ireland, in which no checks will take place. The two sides have also agreed to remove barriers facing the movement of medicines, parcels and pets crossing the Irish Sea.

Meanwhile, members of the Northern Irish assembly (MLAs) will have the ability to block the application of new EU regulations in the region using a new mechanism called the Stormont Brake.

Prime Minister Sunak confirmed today that the new treaty would be put to a parliamentary vote, but did not confirm when it would take place.

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