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By UK Sport

Rishi Sunak Allies Are Increasingly Confident They've Quashed Northern Ireland Deal Rebellion

Rishi Sunak (Alamy)

3 min read

Tory MPs who are supportive of Rishi Sunak's Northern Ireland Protocol deal are confident any rebellion will be small after they piled pressure on hardline Brexiteers in their party to back it.

The European Research Group (ERG) of fervently pro-Leave Conservative MPs is set to meet on Tuesday evening to discuss the substance of the "Windsor framework", which Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen signed off yesterday afternoon.

Sunak will also address the 1922 backbench group of Tory MPs this evening. 

The ERG, which played a key role in previous years of the Brexit saga, including the toppling of former prime minister Theresa May, is set to wait for the advice of its so-called 'star chamber' legal team before formulating a position on whether to support the UK-EU agreement.

However, allies of the PM are confident that any Tory back bench rebellion will be small when the deal is put to a parliamentary vote, which is expected to take place next week.

One ally said there was a handful of avidly pro-Leave Tory MPs who were looking for "any reason" to oppose the pact, but that they made up a small portion of the party's Brexiteers as a whole.

No 10's hopes of minimising a rebellion were boosted when Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker, who once led the ERG, gave his full-throated support for the deal having nearly resigned over it. 

Former Cabinet minister David Davis is another senior Brexiteer to throw his weight behind it.

There is also a belief that a loss in anti-deal momentum among Conservative MPs would make the prospect of Boris Johnson publicly opposing the agreement revealed on Monday less likely. 

"It will be Boris and Mark Francois, which would be brilliant," one senior Tory told PoliticsHome.

PoliticsHome reported last night that the ex-PM had privately urged the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to think hard before backing Sunak's deal, but he is yet to respond to the agreement publicly.

A former minister said: "If they rebel against this deal the ERG are going to look like the last Japanese soldiers left in the jungle after WW2."

Another senior moderate Tory warned on Monday that Conservative MPs who intended to vote against the new deal for Northern Ireland had to put ideological gripes aside and "get real".

However, there is concern among some deal-backers that Sunak has taken a risk by not holding a House of Commons vote sooner, as it gives critics more time to find reasons to oppose it.

Some ERG MPs are concerned that the deal does not go far enough to reduce the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Northern Ireland having read the European Commission's breakdown of the agreement, PoliticsHome understands.

There is also a political risk for Sunak in that some MPs in the ERG are waiting for the DUP's verdict on the treaty before deciding their own position.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said his party will spend the coming days dissecting the text of the deal before deciding whether to support it. He is under pressure from party hardliners like MPs Sammy Wilson and Ian Paisley to push for further changes. 

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