Where are you, Boris? Ex-PM out of sight as he considers Brexit rebellion

Boris Johnson is keeping his head down as he considers whether to rebel over the post-Brexit deal struck by Rishi Sunak and EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

The former prime minister – whose last public engagement was four days ago – skipped yesterday’s Commons session as Mr Sunak presented his deal to end the Northern Ireland Protocol row to widespread acclaim.

The session was packed with MPs crammed shoulder to shoulder as they listened to the details of the historic agreement.

But a familiar mop of blond hair was noticeably absent from the Conservative backbenches, with no word from his camp about why he wasn’t there.

One Labor MP was heard shouting “Where’s Boris?” in the Commons. It has been almost 24 hours since the historic deal was struck at Windsor, but Mr. Johnson has yet to offer his support.

One newspaper quipped that like the Roman emperor Tiberius, he had slunk off to Capri to lick his wounds. But he is still in London, out of sight.

A source close to the ex-PM said he would “study and reflect” on the Windsor Framework. But they did not deny a report that Mr. Johnson had asked the DUP to without support until they had looked carefully at the agreement.

The former PM has contacted the DUP to ask them to “think hard” about backing it, according to Politics Home. A spokesperson for Mr. Johnson said they would not comment on private discussions.

The jet-setter has been traveling around the world for lucrative speaking gigs, but is understood to be in the country this week. He was last seen visiting Tory MP Jonathan Gullis’ Stoke-on-Trent North constituency on Friday.

On Monday Mr. Sunak appeared to confirm that he had phoned Mr. Johnson to brief him on the protocol deal before announcing it. The current PM asked him to “pipe down” on Brexit after a series of recent interventions, a Sunak ally told The Telegraph.

Asked if he had spoken to Mr. Johnson, Mr. Sunak told BBC Radio 4’s Today program: “Of course I speak to the former prime minister. But this is not about any of us, it is not about personalities… This is about the people of Northern Ireland and what is best for them.”

Mr Johnson – who last week urged the PM to use his unilateral bill to override the protocol as an alternative to a UK-EU deal – has been accused by ex-chancellor George Osborne and others of using the issue to try to “bring down” Mr. Sunak.

But the deal has been warmly received by many leading Tory MPs. One Conservative told the BBC Newsnight: “This is such a good deal it will finish off Boris. He will have nowhere to go.”

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson warned that “there remain key issues of concern” about Mr Sunak’s deal, while DUP MP Ian Paisley said his gut instinct was that it “doesn’t cut the mustard”.

Tory Brexiteers in the European Research Group (ERG) are to meet on Tuesday evening, and will convene MP Sir Bill Cash’s so-called “star chamber” of lawyers to scrutinize the deal before deciding whether to back it.

Rishi Sunak unveiling deal at press conference in Windsor

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Rishi Sunak unveiling the deal at a press conference in Windsor


Mr Sunak, who is also expected to speak to backbench MPs at the 1922 Committee around 5pm on Tuesday, defended the deal at length as he sought to see off any threat of rebellion from within his own ranks.

Several senior MPs told The Independent they expected a rebellion to be limited to only around 20 MPs – enough for Mr. Sunak to get his deal through parliament without relying on Labor support.

Even Johnson ally and Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg gave the deal a welcome warning, ITV’s telling Peston that Mr. Sunak had achieved “more than I thought was possible”.

Mr Rees-Mogg claimed Mr Johnson’s original Brexit agreement was not to blame, claiming the Northern Ireland Protocol contained “the means for its own amendment”.

Ahead of discussions tonight, Mark Francois, chairman of the ERG, said he hoped that “we won’t find any nasty surprises which would materially undermine the position of Northern Ireland”.

The Independent understands Mr. Sunak will give several days before the Commons vote he promised on Monday. One ERG source said they had been told the vote won’t be held this week.

But some supportive MPs fear a delay will give hardliners too much time to discover things they don’t like about the Windsor deal.

Boris Johnson is withholding support to ‘study’ details in deal

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Boris Johnson is withholding support to ‘study’ details in the deal

(PA Wire)

Northern Ireland minister and former Brexit rebel Steve Baker was one of the most ardent backers of the deal. “I think this is capable of bringing this awful rollercoaster row to an end, if the DUP are satisfied with it.”

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said it was a “really, really good result”, but said the DUP still needed time and space to consider the details.

Asked several times whether the DUP had the power to “scupper” a deal by refusing to return to Stormont, Mr Cleverly told Sky News: “If they don’t re-enter the powersharing executive that would be hugely disappointing. Ultimately we want Stormont up and running.”

Under the deal, anything destined for Northern Ireland will travel there as part of a “green lane”, with significantly fewer checks. Anything that could cross the border and enter the EU’s single market will travel through a separate “red lane”.

Other changes will allow the UK government to set VAT and excise changes for Northern Ireland, rather than the EU. While some EU goods rules will remain in the province, the Sunak government says it means less than 3 per cent of the Brussels rulebook applies.

Under a new arrangement dubbed the “Stormont brake”, Northern Irish politicians get the power to block any unwelcome new EU rules on goods, if 30 MLA signatures from both parties can secure a successful vote. The UK government would then have to support the veto.

However, the European Court of Justice had been the final arbitrator of any EU law issues in the region, given the fact that Northern Ireland essentially remains within the single market for goods.

Writing in the Telegraphchairman of the backbench 1922 committee Sir Graham Brady said: “The so-called Windsor Framework won’t be perfect but it looks like a massive step forward.”

US president Joe Biden said it was an “essential step” in protecting the Good Friday Agreement, while in Dublin Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the EU had moved “a lot” to facilitate a deal.

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