Liz Truss warns Rishi Sunak to stick to her Brexit NI Protocol plan

Liz Truss - Eugene Hoshiko/AP
Liz Truss - Eugene Hoshiko/AP

Liz Truss will not support Rishi Sunak’s Brexit deal if it falls short of the changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol that she championed while in office, figures close to her have said.

She has become the second former prime minister, after Boris Johnson, to fire a warning that will dampen Downing Street’s hopes of averting a Tory rebellion.

On Thursday, Mr Sunak was forced to pledge that Parliament will get to “express its view” on any agreement amid backbench fears that he could try and force it through without a vote.

Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, turned up the heat on Number 10 by warning she will not accept any compromise that “sells out” Northern Ireland. Mrs Braverman said the Prime Minister must not sign any agreement that “allows the EU a foothold in the United Kingdom” going forward.

Ms Truss will oppose any agreement that does not go as far as the Protocol Bill she drew up while foreign secretary, The Spectator reported. That legislation, on pause in the Lords, would give ministers the powers to remove EU law from the province and strip European judges of their jurisdiction.

At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Mr Sunak was repeatedly asked by Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, whether his deal would deliver on the demands of Brexiteers and Unionists.  Pressured to promise MPs a vote, he replied: “Of course Parliament will express its view.”

Downing Street refused to confirm that the remark meant he was committed to holding a vote, although it was interpreted that way by backbenchers.

Members of the Tory European Research Group have warned Mr Sunak that they will force a symbolic ballot in the Commons if he refuses to grant one. “They really will have to have at least a confirmatory vote. I can’t see how you could bring forward a matter of such importance without the Commons having its say,” said one.

An announcement on any deal, initially pencilled in for Tuesday, is set to be delayed until next week as EU and UK negotiators continue to haggle over the final details.

James Cleverly, the Foreign Secretary, and Maros Sefcovic, the EU negotiator, are set to talk on Thursday as Downing Street pushes for a greater say for Belfast over Brussels red tape.

In the Commons on Wednesday, Mr Sunak looked to ease growing concerns among Brexiteers and Unionists by promising them that his deal would substantially alter the protocol.

He was pressed by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader, on the need to end the automatic imposition of EU laws without Belfast’s say and replied: “I have heard loud and clear. Addressing the democratic deficit is at the very heart of the issues that must be addressed.”

Mr Sunak faces pressure from both wings of his party, with moderate MPs warning him not to give in to Brexiteer calls to press on with the Protocol Bill.

Sir Robert Buckland, a former justice secretary, said: “There would be a sizeable body of opinion that thinks the time for this sort of brinkmanship is well and truly over, and that it no longer serves any real purpose in terms of either relations with the EU or indeed our reputation in the wider world.”

Stephen Hammond, the MP for Wimbledon, said the party should move on from “obscure ideological differences” and support a deal that would boost UK-EU relations and benefit businesses in Northern Ireland and Great Britain, adding: “The vast majority of the Tory Party want this resolved and therefore would be very reluctant to vote against the deal.”

One MP from the influential One Nation grouping predicted that upwards of 300 MPs would vote for the Prime Minister’s deal.