Sunak sees off Tory rebels over his new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland

Rishi Sunak's deal has passed the first Commons test. Credit: PA

Rishi Sunak’s new deal on post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland has cleared its first Commons test despite opposition from some Tory MPs and the DUP.

MPs voted 515 to 29, majority 486, in favour of regulations to implement the Stormont brake section of the Windsor Framework.

The government welcomed the vote, calling it a "turning point" for the people of Northern Ireland.

However, the division list showed former prime ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss were among the 22 Conservative MPs who rebelled and voted against the brake regulations. Six DUP MPs also opposed the regulations.

The European Research Group (ERG) of Tory MPs had said it was “strongly recommending” its members oppose the regulations. Meanwhile, Labour offered its backing.

The brake mechanism would allow a minority of MLAs in the Stormont Assembly to formally flag concerns about the imposition of new EU laws in Northern Ireland – a move that could see the UK government veto their introduction in the region.

“The Stormont brake puts power back into the hands of Stormont and Westminster," a Government spokesman said. “The Windsor Framework is a turning point for the people of Northern Ireland, fixing the problems with the old protocol to ensure the smooth flow of internal UK trade, safeguard NI’s place in the Union and address the democratic deficit.”

After the vote, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris said the Windsor Framework is the best deal for Northern Ireland.

“I welcome Parliament voting today to support the Windsor Framework and approve the statutory instrument related to the Stormont brake,” Mr Heaton-Harris said.

“This measure lies at the very heart of the Windsor Framework, which offers the best deal for Northern Ireland, safeguarding its place in the Union and addressing the democratic deficit."

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Former Business Secretary and ERG member, Jacob Rees-Mogg, said the prime minister's Windsor Framework could "make the situation worse" than the Northern Ireland Protocol

Speaking to Sky News, he said: "I will be voting against because I think the problem with the framework is it solidifies the protocol which has problems in it."

Mr Rees-Mogg said there is a "real problem" with the green lane, which is that "if Northern Ireland ever uses the (Stormont) brake not to apply an EU law, the EU can at its discretion close down the green lane."

Mr Johnson previously voiced concerns about the deal brokered with Brussels and confirmed he will not be backing it when MPs vote on the Stormont brake in the Commons later on Wednesday.

In a statement, he said: “The proposed arrangements would mean either that Northern Ireland remained captured by the EU legal order – and was increasingly divergent from the rest of the UK – or they would mean that the whole of the UK was unable properly to diverge and take advantage of Brexit.

“That is not acceptable. I will be voting against the proposed arrangements today.

“Instead, the best course of action is to proceed with the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, and make sure that we take back control.”

Ms Truss followed suit, with a source close to the former prime minister saying the Windsor Framework does not "satisfactorily resolve the issues thrown up by" the Northern Ireland Protocol and it "almost fatally impinges" on the UK's ability to diverge from EU rules and regulations.

Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker had been pleading with Eurosceptic MPs to back the deal.

Speaking to broadcasters on Wednesday morning, he urged Boris Johnson not to "become a pound shop Nigel Farage" in voting against the Framework.

The confirmation by Mr Johnson of his opposition to the UK-EU deal came ahead of his appearance before the Privileges Committee, where he will be grilled by MPs investigating claims he knowingly misled Parliament over the “partygate” affair.

The former prime minister, who agreed the original Northern Ireland Protocol with Brussels as a way to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, had earlier this month indicated that he would find it “very difficult” to support the Windsor agreement.

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