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Hardline Brexit Tories' Lawyers Dismiss "Useless" Stormont Brake But MPs Delay Verdict On Deal

Conservative MP and ERG chair Mark Francois

3 min read

The European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative MPs have received a damning verdict on Rishi Sunak's Windsor framework for Northern Ireland from their legal team but have decided to delay a final verdict on whether to support it until tomorrow.

ERG chair Mark Francois said the group would hold a meeting to discuss how they would vote when legislation covering the agreement is put to the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon. They are expected to deliver their verdict tomorrow morning before PMQs.

An ERG source said that its MPs would not necessarily vote as one, meaning a group split is possible.

Francois said ERG MPs wanted time to the study statutory instrument (SI) that will be voted on tomorrow after it was published by the government on Monday afternoon.

“Because we need to allow people time to digest this, the ERG will be meeting again tomorrow... once people have had an opportunity to digest all this documentation,” he said.

The ERG, which in recent years has been a influential force in Tory party politics, having played a key part in the demise of ex PM Theresa May, today published a lengthy analysis of Sunak's new deal for Northern Ireland by its so-called 'Star Chamber' of legal experts.

Their conclusion is highly negative, making it difficult to see how ERG MPs will vote with the government tomorrow.

Summarising the legal assessment, Francois said the deal means European Union law will be "supreme" in Northern Ireland, create a green lane for goods heading to Great Britain that "is not really a green lane at all", and that the Stormont Brake negotiated by UK and EU negotiators to give Northern Irish politicians more of a say over EU regulations is "practically useless".

The 'Stormont Brake' is the element of the Windsor deal that MPs will vote on tomorrow.

It is a new mechanism designed by UK and Brussels negotiators to give members of the Northern Irish assembly (MLAs) the ability to stop new EU laws being applied to the region.

Even if all ERG MPs oppose the Windsor deal tomorrow, it would be very unlikely to influence the outcome of the vote, which is expected to land in PM Sunak's favour. 

The Eurosceptic group has shrunk in recent times, and Keir Stamer's Labour has said it will support the new deal for Northern Ireland when it is put to the Commons, meaning the PM will almost certainly have the votes he needs to get it over the line.

However, an ERG rebellion nonetheless would put the PM in an awkward position, with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) having also announced that it will oppose the legislation tomorrow.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said on Monday that the party's eight Westminster MPs would vote against the new post-Brexit deal for Northern Ireland as there are still "key areas of concern".

The DUP argues it does not go far enough because in theory, a UK government could decide to green light the application of an EU law in Northern Ireland even if the Stormont Brake is triggered.

His announcement was a major blow to Sunak's hopes that his deal with the EU would persuade the DUP to re-enter government in Stormont, having collapsed the region's power-sharing institutions early last year in protest against the original Northern Ireland Protocol.

Donaldson said his party would "continue to work" with the UK government on addressing their remaining concerns, leaving the possibility that his party could agree to support the Windsor deal – and return to government in Northern Ireland – later down the line.

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