The Commons has approved British prime minister Rishi Sunak’s revised plan for post-Brexit Northern Ireland trade, but with a rebellion apparently by more than 20 Conservative MPs.
The vote was to approve just one element of the deal, the so-called Stormont brake veto on new EU regulations, but has been seen as a proxy for approval of the entire plan, formally known as the Windsor Framework.
The vote was passed by 515 votes to 29. While the breakdown of such votes is not immediately released, with eight Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MPs set to have voted against it, that is likely to have meant 21 Conservative rebels defied the whip.
The rebellion was boosted after former prime ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss announced in advance that they would oppose the proposals, agreed last month between Mr Sunak and the European Commission.
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The European Research Group (ERG) of Brexit-supporting Tory MPs recommended its members did not support the plan, saying it did not meet the stated objectives of the government.
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Northern Ireland’s DUP came out against the deal, which revamps the Northern Ireland protocol Mr Johnson had signed up to, seeking to ease trade in goods between the North and the rest of the UK.
Mr Johnson had confirmed on Wednesday he would not be backing the deal when MPs voted on the Stormont brake in the Commons.
The brake allows a minority of Northern Ireland Assembly members to flag concerns about new EU laws applying in the North under the Windsor Framework.
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In a statement, Mr Johnson 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 is understood to believe Mr Sunak’s Windsor Framework does not “satisfactorily resolve the issues thrown up by” the protocol and “almost fatally impinges” on the UK’s ability to diverge from EU rules and regulations.
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Mr Johnson, who agreed the Northern Ireland protocol with Brussels as a way to avoid a hard border in Ireland, had earlier this month indicated he would find it “very difficult” to support the Windsor agreement.
On Tuesday, the ERG had said the brake, intended to provide a veto on the imposition of new EU regulations in Northern Ireland, is “practically useless” following an analysis of the framework by its “star chamber” of lawyers.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly is due to meet the EU’s Maros Sefcovic in London on Friday to formally adopt the Windsor pact at a meeting of the joint committee on the Withdrawal Agreement.
While the DUP is not in a position to block it, their opposition suggests that an early return to powersharing at Stormont is so far highly unlikely.
The Executive and Assembly have been suspended since the DUP walked out last year in protest at the way the protocol was operating, saying it weakened Northern Ireland’s position in the UK.
Downing Street has indicated that there could be further votes in the weeks ahead on the statutory instruments needed to implement other elements of the framework.
However, there is frustration among some MPs that Mr Sunak is resisting calls for an overall vote on the whole framework document. – Guardian/PA