Boris Johnson believes it would be a ‘great mistake’ to abandon Brexit legislation
Boris’s allies issue warning to Sunak’s camp: Former Prime Minister believes it would be a ‘great mistake’ to abandon Brexit legislation as talks over Northern Ireland deal continue
Tensions emerged last night between Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson’s camps over whether to abandon Brexit legislation as a deal on Northern Ireland moved closer.
Sources close to the former Prime Minister said it would be a ‘great mistake’ to drop laws that would remove trade barriers in the region.
Senior Government officials have said the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, introduced last June, will be unnecessary if the issues are resolved before it becomes law. But the Prime Minister warned a deal with the EU to fix issues with trade in Northern Ireland was ‘by no means done’.
Mr Sunak held ‘positive discussions’ with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at the Munich Security Conference yesterday, according to Downing Street.
While the PM played down the prospect of an imminent breakthrough, the pair said they would ‘remain in close contact over the coming days’.
But a source close to the Commission suggested a solution to end the impasse could happen within days. It is likely to be announced in the UK rather than the EU, they added.
Mr Sunak held ‘positive discussions’ with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at the Munich Security Conference yesterday, according to Downing Street
The Government is keen to play down the chances of a deal that could be put to MPs as soon as this week. But after Mr Sunak flew to Belfast on Friday for talks with the political parties in Northern Ireland, including the DUP, hopes of an announcement increased.
Any deal, however, is likely to have to pass the hurdles of being agreed by the major parties there, Tory Eurosceptic backbenchers, and allies of Mr Johnson.
Yesterday, sources close to the former Prime Minister said that no judgment should be made until people have seen the text of a deal.
But he is understood to think it would be an error to abandon the protocol, which is seen as a bargaining tool that brought the Commission to the table, but as a threat in the EU.
However, Government officials said: ‘If we can find a way to satisfactorily resolve the issues with the protocol then you wouldn’t need the Bill. But we haven’t resolved them yet.’
The Bill appears to have been paused in its passage through Parliament as talks with the Commission continue. Senior Cabinet sources warned yesterday that the ‘toughest issues are always the ones that you get to towards the end’.
In his speech in Munich yesterday, Mr Sunak said: ‘We’re engaging in those conversations with the European Union all the time and we have been for a while, but what I’d say is there is still work to do.
‘There are still challenges to work through. We have not resolved all these issues. No, there isn’t a deal that has been done, there is an understanding of what needs to be done.’
However, a readout of his meeting with Ms von der Leyen appeared to offer a more upbeat assessment.
A Downing Street spokesman said: ‘They agreed that there had been good progress to find solutions. Intensive work is still needed at official and ministerial levels.’
Sources close to the former Prime Minister said it would be a ‘great mistake’ to drop laws that would remove trade barriers in the region
Mr Sunak’s trip to the German summit came a day after his meetings with the five main Stormont parties in Belfast to gain their support.
He was warned by the DUP that his proposed deal did not go far enough and did not deal with the ‘democratic deficit’, a phrase used by unionists to describe the application of EU rules without local politicians having an influence on them.
Mr Sunak cited ‘the democratic deficit at the heart of the protocol as it’s currently constructed’ as one of the issues that need to be resolved.
It is not clear if he will be able to extract more concessions on the oversight role of the European Court of Justice, which is a major issue for Eurosceptic Tory backbenchers.
Members of the European Research Group could rebel if the changes are put to a vote in the Commons. Mr Johnson could also intervene.