Why few Tory MPs are rebelling against the Northern Ireland Protocol bill

An anti-Northern Ireland protocol bill near to Larne Port. Credit: PA

When you hear a former Tory prime minister describe a piece of important government legislation as illegal, ineffectual and highly damaging to the UK’s standing in the world - which is how Theresa May just described Boris Johnson’s Northern Ireland Protocol Bill - you might expect there to be a massive backbench rebellion against the planned legislation.

But I am told by informed Conservative sources that Monday night’s vote on unilaterally breaking the Northern Ireland provisions of the UK’s Brexit deal with the EU will be a whimper not a bang - and perhaps eight Tory MPs will abstain and few-to-none will vote nay.

But this does not mean Boris Johnson has regained his authority over his MPs. Au contraire.

One senior Tory told me the decision among One Nation Tories and Johnson critics to allow the bill to pass its second reading was a combination of “dangled political honours” and the imperative of looking “Eurosceptic enough” to secure a job in a “future leader’s cabinet”.

Most calculations by many Tory MPs at the moment are about the optimal time to unseat Johnson and how best to derive political advantage from that.

And in a party whose members remain resolutely Eurosceptic, a short cut to a top ministerial job is NOT to fight for more amicable relations with the EU.

“End of days feel” said the MP.

What is the Northern Ireland Protocol?

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know