By Gavin Cordon, Richard Wheeler, Martina Bet and Sam Blewett, PA Political Staff
MPs will get their first chance to vote on Rishi Sunak’s new deal with the EU on post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland next week.
Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt said the House will be asked on Wednesday to approve regulations to implement the so-called Stormont brake element of the Windsor Framework.
Downing Street said the measure – which potentially gives the UK a veto over the imposition of new EU rules in Northern Ireland – was the “most significant part” of the agreement.
“We believe this meets the commitment the Prime Minster made to have a vote on the new arrangements focused on an issue which is at the heart of the framework,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.
With Labour having made clear they will support the deal in Parliament, the statutory instrument (SI) to implement the brake mechanism is expected to pass comfortably.
But it will not necessarily lead to the return of the powersharing executive in Stormont, which has been suspended since the DUP – the largest unionist party in the assembly – walked out in protest at the way the Northern Ireland Protocol was operating.
While DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has acknowledged the framework is an improvement on the protocol – part of Boris Johnson’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement with the EU – he has said “fundamental problems” remain.
Mr Sunak could also face a backbench rebellion by Tory hardliners in the European Research Group (ERG) who are studying the fine print of the framework before deciding whether to back it.
It is my current assessment that there remains key areas of concern which require further clarification, re-working and change as well as seeing further legal text.@J_Donaldson_MP https://t.co/LEwXjBRphN
— DUP (@duponline) March 14, 2023
Downing Street insists it deals with the main difficulties with the protocol, allowing the free flow of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland without the need for routine customs checks so long as they are not destined for the Republic.
The brake mechanism enables a minority of Stormont MLAs to formally flag concerns about the imposition of new EU laws in Northern Ireland, potentially leading to a UK Government veto.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said that while the SI – which will be published on Monday – would not be amendable by MPs, the Government remained open to speaking to the DUP and others on any questions they may have.
“There are elements of how the framework is enacted which we do want to discuss extensively with the DUP, particularly around the Stormont brake and how that works in practice,” he said.
“They will be an important part of that, as will the other political parties.”
The spokesman confirmed there would be other SIs required to implement other parts of the framework which would also require the backing of Parliament.
In the Commons, DUP MP Sammy Wilson said ministers needed to explain the “difference between the rhetoric and the reality” of the framework document in Wednesday’s debate.
“There’s still 300 areas of EU law that will still apply to Northern Ireland even after the Windsor Framework, and the ECJ (European Court of Justice) will still adjudicate on them,” he said.
Meanwhile, ERG chairman Mark Francois said they were still awaiting the verdict of the group’s so-called star chamber of legal experts.
“We now hope to see this completed before next Wednesday and members of the group will no doubt pay close attention to the star chamber’s conclusions, prior to any vote,” he said.