Rishi Sunak ‘confident’ only 20 Tory MPs could rebel against Brexit deal in crunch vote
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Rishi Sunak is braced for an 11th-hour rebellion from within the Conservative Party over his newly agreed Brexit deal. A source close to the powerful European Research Group, which has voiced opposition to the deal, told the Daily Express that the Tory whips are “nervous” about tomorrow’s vote in the Commons. The insider warned that “previous secretaries of state from some of the highest offices” are likely to vote against the legislation.
They said that, while the bill is likely to pass through the Commons as Labour has lent support to the Government, many Tory MPs are likely to “vote with their conscience” and oppose the legislation.
Mr Sunak is currently facing a battle with the prominent group of Brexiteers.
The ERG described the Stormont Brake – which is a key part of the Government’s Brexit deal – as “practically useless”.
The insider said: “It is clear that the whips are nervous and the coffees are being made to try and woo Tory MPs back into the fray.
“It is clear that the wool has not been pulled over the eyes of many tory MPs having studied the framework more closely.
“The insistence from the government that there is a veto is only likely to fuel this rebellion further.
“It is looking ever more likely that previous secretaries of state from some of the highest offices are going to vote against this tomorrow.”
A 54-page document presented to ERG members this morning warned that the Windsor Framework, signed by the UK and EU earlier this month, does not restore UK sovereignty over Northern Ireland or meet any of the group’s red lines.
Yesterday it was revealed that the Democratic Unionists (DUP) will also reject the deal and vote against it tomorrow when the government asks Parliament to approve the so-called Stormont Brake, which would give Northern Ireland a veto over EU rules.
The lengthy report, put together by Sir William Cash and a team of lawyers, said Mr Sunak’s deal “doubles down” on the hated Northern Ireland Protocol.
The report warned that “Northern Ireland remains subject to the power and control of EU law, the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) and EU administrative organs (such as the European Commission) in respect of goods and ancillary matters.”
Noting that the two main objectives sought in renegotiating the deal are not achieved, they said: “The rights of the people of Northern Ireland under the Acts of Union 1800 are not restored.
“The hard border remains between the two different legal systems, which comprise those of (a) Great Britain, and (b) the newly created EU law regime in Northern Ireland.”
On “doubling down” on the existing Northern Ireland Protocol, they said: “The UK provides new commitments and undertakings which reaffirm and embed the status and structures of the Withdrawal Agreement and its NI Protocol.”
In a particularly damning verdict, they noted: “The Government commits to stopping the progress of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill which, if enacted, would allow for the restoration of UK sovereignty in Northern Ireland.”
Speaking after the ERG was presented with the report, chairman Mark Francois said: “The DUP have made their position very plain – they’re going to vote against. We, to some degree have been critical of the government for not allowing people enough time to digest everything.
“So for instance the SI and the explanatory notes only came out yesterday, so we don’t want to be hoisted by our own petard.”
He said the group would meet again tomorrow morning, as it is yet to make a collective decision on how it will vote.
Mr Francois explained: “Because we need to allow people time to digest this, the ERG will be meeting again tomorrow in this room at the same time, once people have had an opportunity to digest all this documentation.
“We as a group will discuss what attitude – if any – to take and we’ll be having that meeting just before PMQs.”
He added: “The group hasn’t taken a decision yet and ultimately – this has always been our way – it will be down to every individual colleague in the group.”
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