Stormont Brake part of Windsor Protocol branded 'practically useless' by group of Conservative MPs

A group of Brexit-backing Conservative MPs have labelled a key element of the Prime Minister's Brexit deal "practically useless".

The analysis of the Stormont brake by the European Research Group (ERG) follows the verdict of a so-called "Star Chamber" of lawyers charged with considering the details of Rishi Sunak's deal with the EU on post-Brexit arrangements in Northern Ireland.

But Conservative backbencher and ERG chairman Mark Francois declined to say how members will vote on the deal, saying that the group will meet again on Wednesday to discuss the matter before the vote in the Commons on the Stormont brake.

In a statement, Mr Francois said: "The Star Chamber's principal findings are: that EU law will still be supreme in Northern Ireland; the rights of its people under the 1800 Act of Union are not restored; the green lane is not really a green lane at all; the Stormont brake is practically useless; and the framework itself has no exit, other than through a highly complex legal process."

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has already said it will vote against the framework.

Any backbench rebellion is unlikely to put the fate of the UK-EU agreement in jeopardy, with Mr Sunak able to rely on the support of Labour and other parties in getting the deal passed.

The group's report is highly critical of parts of the deal, saying it "makes only limited legal changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol, on the basis of temporary legal powers under the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement which do not permit any changes to 'essential elements'."

"Claims that this amounts to a new framework or structure are not correct," it adds.

Despite that criticism, Mr Francois refused to say how members will vote.

"The DUP have made their position very plain - they are going to vote against. We, to some degree, have been critical of the Government for not allowing people enough time to digest everything," he said.

But noting secondary legislation on the Stormont brake was only published on Monday, he said the group will not be "hoisted by our own petard".

"Because we need to allow people time to digest this, the ERG will be meeting again tomorrow... once people have had an opportunity to digest all this documentation," he said.

"We as a group will discuss what attitude, if any, to take and we will be having that meeting just before PMQs."

Downing Street on Tuesday said the Windsor Framework is the "only avenue" to change the current default, which is "automatic alignment".

The Prime Minister's official spokesman, asked if a vote against the Stormont brake is a vote for Northern Ireland to be aligned with EU rules, said: "Certainly on a factual basis, the legal default in domestic and international law is automatic alignment to EU standards and rules for goods, which is currently the case under the grace periods as well as the full implementation of the old protocol.

"So any change to EU rules on goods would automatically apply in Northern Ireland without any say for Stormont.

"So the framework is the only avenue by which that default can change.

"A vote against the brake, in factual terms, would lead to automatic alignment with the EU with no say at all."

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