LONDON — Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson 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.”
He 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.
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 Brexiteer 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.
Johnson’s intention to vote against the deal could also pose a problem for Sunak if the former PM’s allies on the back benches follow suit.
The European Research Group of arch-Brexiteers is yet to decide which way it will swing in Wednesday’s vote, while Johnson’s successor as PM Liz Truss hasn’t indicated either way.
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.
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