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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Boris Johnson Inflames Rebellion Against Rishi Sunak's Windsor Framework

Former PM Boris Johnson (Alamy)

4 min read

Senior Conservative MPs including Boris Johnson and Liz Truss have joined the rumbling rebellion against Rishi Sunak's Windsor framework, creating a headache for the Prime Minister as a key element of his deal for Northern Ireland is put to a House of Commons vote.

But Northern Ireland Minister Steve Baker, who is supporting Sunak's deal with the European Union despite having spearheaded Brexiteer rebellions in the past, has said Johnson risks becoming a "pound shop Nigel Farage" by inflaming tensions on the issue. 

"He's got a choice," Baker told reporters this morning.

"He can be remembered for great acts of statecraft that he achieved. or can risk looking like pound shop Nigel Farage. I hope he chooses to be remembered as a statesman."

Johnson announced on Wednesday morning that he would vote against the legislation to approve the 'Stormont brake' element of the Windsor framework, which will be put to MPs this afternoon, saying the terms of the new deal with Brussels were unacceptable.

"The proposed arrangements would mean either that Northern Ireland remained captured by the EU legal order – and was increasingly divergent from the rest of the UK – or they would mean that the whole of the UK was unable properly to diverge and take advantage of Brexit," Johnson said.

"That is not acceptable. I will be voting against the proposed arrangements today.

"Instead, the best course of action is to proceed with Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, and make sure that we take back control."

Johnson was soon followed by another ex-prime minister, his short-lived successor Liz Truss, whose spokesperson confirmed would also vote against the Windsor framework this afternoon.

Senior Conservatives including former party leader Iain Duncan Smith and ex-Cabinet minister Priti Patel have also said they will rebel on the new post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland.

They are joined by hardline Brexiteers in the European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative MPs, of which Baker is a former member, whose legal team has been highly dismissive of the agreement signed by Sunak and the European Commission last month.

The group's senior officers have now formally recommended that its MPs vote against the government. 

"No one present spoke out against that," chair Mark Francois said following a meeting of the group this morning. 

"Everyone had an opportunity to give their point of view but no one said that we should not."

While dissent from influential figures in the party will be unwelcome for Sunak, the Conservative rebellion is still expected to be small, with the ERG having significantly shrunk compared with when it played a key part in bringing down ex-PM Theresa May over Brexit.

There are a number of senior Brexiteers in the Tory party who are backing Sunak's deal.

David Davis, the former Brexit Secretary, accused Truss of having contributed to the "problem that Rishi Sunak is now solving" in a critical tweet.

Only a dozen Tory MPs had publicly announced their intention to rebel at the time of writing.

There are questions, however, over whether enough Tories will ultimately rebel to mean that Sunak will need the support of Keir Starmer's Labour Party, which is expected, to get the legislation over the line. The PM would rely on Labour's backing to win today's vote if 34 or more Conservative MPs vote against him.

Baker, who in recent years has been one of the Conservative party's leading Brexiteers, insisted that the government would not need Labour's support to get the legislation passed today.

"It's no question of it going through on Labour votes, it will be going through because it's the right thing for Northern Ireland. This is going to be a storm in a teacup. People need to realise this is the moment to bank the win and move forward together," the minister said.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), whose support for the deal will be key to restoration of Northern Ireland's political institutions, has already announced that its eight Westminster MPs will vote against the legislation.

Today MPs are voting on an element of the Windsor framework called the 'Stormont Brake'.

This is a new mechanism devised by UK and EU negotiators to give members of Northern Ireland's legislative assembly (MLAs) a veto over new EU regulations being applied in the region.

However, the DUP believes the mechanism does not go far enough to give politicians in Belfast a say, while the ERG's so-called legal 'Star Chamber' described it as "practically useless".

Raoul Ruparel, the former chief Europe adviser in No 10, said the ERG legal analysis published on Tuesday was "completely one-sided" in a highly critical series of tweets.


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