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DUP And Tory Brexiteer Backlash Stalls Northern Ireland Protocol Deal

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson speaking outside Stormont (Alamy)

3 min read

Rishi Sunak's plans for announcing a Northern Ireland Protocol deal face delay after a backlash from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and hardline Brexiteers in the Conservative party.

PoliticsHome reported at the weekend that government whips had drawn up plans for the Prime Minister to confirm an agreement with the European Union early this week, with a House of Commons statement provisionally pencilled in for Tuesday.

However, this timetable could now be pushed back, with a DUP source on Monday telling PoliticsHome that the party believes an announcement now may not come until next week.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton Harris will speak to European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic this afternoon about the state of the negotiations.

The party led by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has set out seven tests that it says a UK-EU deal on the protocol must meet in order to secure its approval. 

Sammy Wilson, the DUP MP for East Antrim, warned that negotiators are "tinkering around the edges" based on what he seen of the proposed deal, and that his party will not return to the power-sharing government in Belfast unless the "fundamental issue" of the application of EU law in the region is dealt with.

The DUP collapsed Stormont's institutions early last year over its opposition to the treaty, which it says has undermined Northern Ireland's place in the UK.

Sunak has taken the UK to the cusp of an agreement with Brussels on the contentious post-Brexit treaty for Northern Ireland after many months of failed negotiations during the premierships of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.

The Prime Minister and European Commission Vice President Ursula von der Leyen had a "positive discussion" in Munich on Saturday in which they agreed "there had been very good progress to find solutions" in the negotiations, the pair said in a joint statement.

However, a Tory backlash against the reported terms of the settlement and Sunak's approach to the talks with the EU, spearheaded by his predecessor Johnson, has added to the political challenge facing the Prime Minister in getting a deal over the line.

Johnson on Sunday warned Sunak to not drop the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which he introduced while in no10. The former prime minister and other pro-Brexit Tories argue its passage through parliament is vital as it gives the UK levarege in talks with the EU.

The legislation is highly controversial, however, as it would give UK ministers the powers to unilaterally tear up parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol without the approval of Brussels.

PoliticsHome reported this month that the Sunak government had unofficially put the bill's passage through parliament on hold to avoid undermining its negotiations with Brussels at a key moment.

Johnson has been backed by Tories including former levelling up secretary Simon Clarke, ex-Brexit minister Jacob Rees Mogg, and ex-former chief UK negotiator Lord Frost.

Clarke is a Tory MP who DUP figures did not expect to be part of a Conservative back bench rebellion, prompting a belief within the party that it could prove to be larger than previously thought.

James Duddridge MP, a major ally of Johnson, told Sky News that a Tory rebellion over the Northern Ireland Protocol could be in treble figures and "the majority of the parliamentary party".

The European Research Group (ERG) of staunchly pro-Leave Conservative MPs is due to meet in Westminster on Tuesday to discuss its next steps.

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