David Davis on Rishi Sunak's Brexit support in 2016
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The Northern Ireland Protocol has proven a major issue with the Brexit deal Boris Johnson secured with the EU. Designed to avoid a hard border within the island of Ireland, it effectively created one in the Irish Sea instead – something which Mr Johnson had passionately assured voters he would not allow to happen.
It did this by leaving Northern Ireland within the EU single market for goods – but triggering Article 16, which gives both the UK and the EU power to act unilaterally on elements of the deal, would enable the next leader of the Conservative party to potentially fix the issue. Speaking to Express.co.uk, director of the Bow Group Ben Harris-Quincey urged the leadership hopefuls to trigger Article 16 should they move into No10 – but warned that he didn’t have much faith in them doing so.
He said: “There is an opportunity to vastly improve on Boris’ performance, but neither of the remaining candidates have promise to do so.
“Suella Braverman was the most promising but was knocked out by MPs before she had a chance to get her message to the members. Kemi Badenoch may have had some potential, but the two remaining candidates I would trust less than Boris to deliver on Brexit or anything else.
“If the next leader makes the same mistake as Boris to ignore the people that put them in office, they will be out quicker than him. If the new PM and government knows what’s good for them they will trigger Article 16 and make Northern Ireland the priority it deserves to be.”
Despite being a former passionate Remainer and Lib Dem, foreign secretary Ms Truss is likely to take a firmer stance than her counterpart on the Northern Ireland Protocol, having already taken a hard line with Brussels during negotiations over the issue.
In 2019 she allegedly dismissed the impact of a no-deal Brexit on Irish businesses as merely affecting “a few farmers with turnips in the back of their trucks” at an event held by right-wing American think tank the Heritage Foundation.
However, she has since taken the Protocol more seriously and pushed the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill into parliament. The Protocol Bill – which some experts believe is in breach of international law – rips up parts of Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal.
The brutal approach on this has also sparked fears that the EU may respond by engaging in a trade war with the UK. Ms Truss has also vowed to scrap all remaining EU laws by the end of 2023 if she becomes prime minister.
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Mr Sunak, on the other hand, has said the government’s preference is a negotiated settlement with the EU. He reportedly urged Boris Johnson and his former Brexit negotiator Lord Frost not to “blow up” talks with the EU.
Late last year, the Daily Telegraph reported he had raised concerns that escalating tensions could impact on the British economy. Mr Sunak did not vote on Ms Truss’s controversial Northern Ireland Protocol Bill at its second reading in the Commons.
However, he has historically always been a firm supporter of Brexit, with a recently unearthed video showing him supporting Britain’s exit from the EU in his role as MP for Richmond, North Yorkshire.
The final results of the Conservative leadership contest will be on September 5.
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