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No 10 Using Small Boats To Persuade Hardline Tory Brexiteers To Back 'Windsor Framework'

Border Force officers in the English Channel (Alamy)

3 min read

Downing Street is telling Conservative MPs who are weighing up whether to back the deal on Northern Ireland that getting it done will improve the chances of an agreement with France on tackling Channel crossings.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is trying to convince staunch Brexiteers in the Tory party to back the treaty that he announced alongside European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Monday.

Sunak spoke at a 1922 Committee meeting of Conservative MPs late on Tuesday afternoon ahead of a House of Commons vote on the deal, dubbed the "Windsor framework", which is expected to take place next week. 

Allies of the PM are currently confident that any Tory back bench rebellion will be smaller than previously feared and limited to a group of the party's most hardline Leavers.

In a bid to limit a Tory backlash as much as possible, Conservative MPs are being told that getting the deal over the line will boost the chances of striking an agreement with France on tackling small boats crossings, which is one of Sunak's priorities and a major issue for many Tory MPs.

The argument being put forward by No 10 is that doing the deal will lead to a major improvement in UK relations with European neighbours like France, and pave the way to a significant bilateral agreement on Channel crossings.

On 10 March Sunak will travel to Paris for a summit with French President Emmanuel Macron, where the issue of small boats is expected to be high on their agenda.

Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, linked the success of the Windsor framework with the small boats issue during a Q&A on Tuesday afternoon.

Speaking at an event hosted by think tank Onward, the senior Cabinet minister said the UK-EU deal on resolving the Northern Ireland Protocol "also opens the door to closer cooperation with our neighbours on issues like the small boat challenge that we face".

The deal for Northern Ireland came after a significant improvement in relations between the UK and EU following a period of acrimony during the premierships of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.

Sources on both sides said the atmosphere has improved markedly since Sunak entered No 10, and played a big part in them being able find a way of resolving the long-standing impasse.

Speaking alongside Sunak on Monday, von der Leyen said the deal on Northern Ireland had opened the door to the UK being given associate membership of the EU's science programmes known as Horizon, and that the bloc would work on it "immediately".

Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s backing of the deal for Northern Ireland could also be key in persuading Tory Brexiteers to row in behind the agreement.

In Tuesday’s Cabinet she “congratulated the Prime Minister” on the treaty and said the new veto negotiated for Northern Irish politicians, known as the Stormont Brake, was “an important measure to help safeguard sovereignty", according to a readout of the meeting. 

As well as an ardent Eurosceptic, Braverman has long made the case for the UK to employ strong measures to stop people crossing the English channel, and is seen by members of the ERG as one of their own.

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