Brexiteers back Boris with former PM ready to twist Sunak’s arm on EU

Brexit: Rishi Sunak says there is ‘no deal’

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Leading Brexiteers have thrown their weight behind Boris Johnson after the former Prime Minister staged a significant intervention over the latest Brexit negotiations. House of Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt said Mr Johnson’s latest move was a “helpful” contribution as there is “there’s still a lot to be done” to secure a deal over the Northern Ireland Protocol. The former Prime Minister added to mounting pressure on Rishi Sunak to avoid giving too much away to the EU amid crunch talks to resolve ongoing issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol.

A source close to Mr Johnson said he thought “it would be a great mistake to drop the Northern Ireland Protocol bill” – legislation which could override the EU and torpedo the protocol altogether.

Tory MP Marco Longhi backed the intervention, telling the Daily Express the UK should use “every negotiating card” at its disposal in order to achieve a good deal.

Meanwhile, fellow Conservative MP Ben Bradley said Mr Johnson was “right” to intervene but accepted that “everything he says will be seen as an attack” on Mr Sunak.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman also weighed in on the issue, saying that the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill is one of the “biggest tools we have in solving problems on the Irish Sea”.

The UK has been locked in talks with the EU over the protocol, which has caused severe delays and shortages in Northern Ireland, since October 2021.

Mr Sunak held crunch talks in Belfast last week, before meeting with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference over the weekend.

While Downing Street and EU leaders are thought to be edging closer to an agreement, there are concerns that the deal will allow the European Court of Justice to maintain a role in policing the deal.

Such a compromise would be unacceptable for Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party and the right wing of the Tory party, including the European Research Group (ERG).

A Conservative Party insider told the Daily Express: “The ERG is wound up. The Boris faction is licking their lips.”

Meanwhile, DUP MP Sammy Wilson warned: “So far what we have had is some tinkering with the protocol, but the fundamental issue of the protocol is that Northern Ireland is now separated from the rest of the UK. That’s impacted on the union and we’ve found ourselves economically disadvantaged.”

He told Sky News that if Northern Ireland continues to be inside the single market under the renegotiated protocol, the DUP would continue its boycott of the Stormont Assembly, which has been ongoing since February 2021.

Mr Wilson said: “We believe that such an arrangement is designed to take us out of the united kingdom”.

The MP explained: “We would have to agree EU laws which diverge from UK laws, and in doing so would separate our own country from the rest of the UK. We’re British, and we expect to be governed by UK law, not EU law.”

Responding to Mr Johnson’s intervention, Ms Mordaunt said: “Boris is being Boris. I wouldn’t say this is a completely unhelpful intervention.

“The Prime Minister will acknowledge that having the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill there, having the work that the former Prime Minister did, has helped us get where we are.

“But it has always been our preference to try and have a negotiated settlement and that is what everyone is working to. There’s still a lot to be done.”

Mr Longhi said: “As a strong Brexiteer, I’m glad that leading politicians like Boris and Penny Mordaunt have emphasised how important it is that we maintain a strong position with the EU.

“We have seen ample examples of it being one-way traffic with the EU, their way or no way, so we should use and maintain every negotiating card that a sovereign nation should have.”

Speaking about Mr Johnson’s intervention, fellow Conservative MP Ben Bradley told the Daily Express: “I think it’s fair to say that the deal, whatever it looks like, must tick the boxes in terms of Northern Ireland’s place in the Union and its right to reiterate that as it comes forward.

“From that point of view, he’s right, though obviously everything he says will be seen as an attack on Rishi.”

He added: “I’m looking forward to proper briefings on the facts this week as there’s been lots of conjecture.”

The Daily Express last week revealed that Mr Johnson was planning the intervention over the Protocol, with a source telling the paper: “It won’t be all guns blazing, it will be classic Boris. He won’t go out and say the UK has been betrayed, he’ll be a lot more clever than that.

“It will be something like ‘Rishi, I know you can get a better deal’, while also being out there scheming behind his back.”

The Conservative party insider claimed that Mr Johnson will “then come out swinging” if Mr Sunak doesn’t deliver, using the issue as a “springboard” to improve his standing within the Conservative party.

“Boris is waiting for the local elections in May, but this issue is the perfect springboard for what he wants”, the source explained.

Over the weekend, former Chancellor George Osborne told Andrew Neil on Channel 4 that Mr Johnson “is interested in becoming Prime Minister again”, claiming “he wants to bring down Rishi Sunak and he will use any instrument to do it.”

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