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Mar 21, 2023
UK Tory Brexiteers Say Parts of Sunak’s New EU Deal ‘Useless’
(Bloomberg) -- Hard-line Brexiteers in Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party said parts of the UK prime minister’s new Brexit deal are “practically useless,” while reserving judgment on whether they’ll rebel in a vote on Wednesday.
EU law will remain supreme in Northern Ireland, new trading arrangements won’t work as billed by Sunak and a proposed veto mechanism for the application of new EU rules in the region won’t work, the Tory Brexiteer faction, known as the European Research Group, said on Tuesday in its first detailed assessment of the deal.
But despite the criticisms, ERG Chairman Mark Francois stopped short of saying his members will oppose the agreement, saying “we need to allow people time to digest this” and convening a new meeting for Wednesday morning. “We as a group will discuss what attitude, if any, to take” he said.
The tenor of the the ERG assessment suggests they’ll join Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party in opposing the government in the first House of Commons vote on the deal since it was struck last month by Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. While that would be a blow to Sunak, who had hoped his deal addressed the concerns of both groups, it’s unlikely to cost him victory because of support from the main opposition Labour Party.
Sunak has a working majority of 66 in Parliament, meaning it would take at least 33 rebels to leave him relying on opposition votes. But the ERG is not the organizing force it was at the height of the Brexit wars in Parliament from 2017 to 2019, with some of its most prominent former members now occupying government positions and the others exhausted by Brexit. Francois declined to answer questions from reporters about how many MPs are in his caucus.
The new agreement marked an effort to eliminate friction in trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland resulting from the old terms negotiated by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The pact also aims to give that region’s politicians a greater say in the application of EU laws.
But the main holdout party in Northern Ireland, the DUP, said Monday that its eight Members of Parliament will vote against the government on Wednesday, despite hailing “significant progress.”
Francois spoke after an ERG meeting in Parliament Tuesday morning. The group’s so-called “star chamber” of legal experts has been combing through the new deal for two weeks to determine whether it addresses the concerns of Brexiteers.
Wednesday’s vote won’t be on the whole agreement, but rather on a piece of legislation known as a statutory instrument that’s focused on the so-called Stormont Brake — a portion of the deal that aims to give Northern Ireland’s lawmakers a potential veto over changes to EU rules. Francois described the mechanism as “practically useless.”
The brake was designed to challenge amendments or replacements to EU law. That rankled the DUP, which said on Monday it “therefore cannot apply, to the EU law which is already in place and for which no consent has been given for its application.”
Sunak’s spokesman, Max Blain, told reporters on Tuesday that the brake “is a significant measure which goes far beyond what was previously available.”
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