LONDON — Former prime ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss will vote against the U.K.-EU deal on post-Brexit trading rules in Northern Ireland — in a blow to Rishi Sunak’s efforts to unite his Conservative Party behind the agreement.
In a statement issued to POLITICO London Playbook ahead of the deal’s first parliamentary vote Wednesday, Johnson said Sunak’s Windsor framework “is not acceptable.” In a sign of lingering Tory acrimony over Brexit, he’s already been dismissed as a “pound shop Nigel Farage” by a serving minister.
Johnson warned the deal would either leave Northern Ireland “captured by the EU legal order” or mean that “the whole of the U.K. was unable properly to diverge and take advantage of Brexit.”
“That is not acceptable,” he said. “Instead, the best course of action is to proceed with Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, and make sure that we take back control.” Johnson was referring to a since-shelved U.K. plan to unilaterally override the contentious Northern Ireland protocol — which kept the region bound to EU standards on goods.
A statement from Truss’ spokesperson said later Wednesday morning: “After examining the detail of the Stormont Brake and Windsor Framework, Liz has decided to vote against the Statutory Instrument this afternoon.”
The pair’s intention to vote against the deal could pose a problem for Sunak if more of their allies on the back benches follow suit.
Johnson supporter Andrea Jenkyns tweeted Wednesday morning that she would be opposing the “capitulation to the EU,” while Former Home Secretary Priti Patel told the Telegraph she would “not be buying shares on the government’s smoke and mirrors on Windsor.”
Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker — formerly a leading Brexit rebel — warned Johnson he may be remembered as a “pound shop Nigel Farage,” referring to the ex-UKIP leader who drove efforts to get Britain out of the EU.
Baker told broadcasters Tory MPs were “entitled to have their concerns” but that using the Protocol Bill “would wreck our relations with the EU and damage our standing internationally.”
Speaking of Johnson and Truss he said: “Both of them should be backing the Windsor Framework today… He’s got a choice. He can be remembered for the great acts of statecraft that he achieved, or he can risk looking like a pound shop Nigel Farage.”
The European Research Group of arch-Brexiteers is yet to decide which way it will swing in Wednesday’s vote.
Sunak secured the EU-U.K. deal February after months of negotiations.
The British prime minister was keen to secure the blessing of both the DUP, which walked out of the region’s power-sharing institutions last year in protest at the protocol, and his own Tory backbenchers. Though the opposition Labour Party has said it supports Sunak’s deal, the PM’s authority may take a hit if he is forced to rely on opposition votes.
The first vote Wednesday is on the so-called “Stormont brake” element of the deal, which would give the currently-defunct Northern Ireland Assembly the power to object to any new EU regulations set to apply in the region provided parties agree to re-establish the power-sharing administration.