Boris Johnson has warned Rishi Sunak that ditching the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill in favor of a new Brexit deal would be a “great mistake”.
In his first intervention on Brexit since leaving office, the former prime minister urged his successor not to tear up the legislation, which is seen by Brexiteers as the most important bargaining chip with the EU.
On Saturday night, a source close to Mr Johnson said: “His general thinking is that it would be a great mistake to drop the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.”
The Bill allows the Government to rip up parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which would include ending the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). It is understood that Mr Sunak believes if he can secure a revised Brexit deal, he will no longer need the Bill.
Mr Johnson’s intervention points to a growing rebellion over Mr Sunak’s deal.
On Saturday, the Prime Minister and Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, issued a rare joint statement saying they had made “very good progress” on solving the Protocol issue.
The deal, expected to be announced this week, will make the ECJ the ultimate arbiter of disputes about EU law that emerge from Northern Ireland.
The DUP urged Mr Sunak to stand by the Protocol rather than “cave in” to Brussels, which says the Bill flouts international law. One veteran Brexiteer said if Mr Johnson were to conclude that Downing Street was “somehow trying to ‘Get Brexit Undone'”, this would “up the ante considerably”.
David Jones, deputy chairman of the European Research Group of Tory MPs, said: “If we still have a foreign government governing part of our country, we still have a foreign court with jurisdiction, then an awful lot of us would find it very hard to support it.”
Sir James Duddridge, a former Brexit minister, said a deal involving a role for the ECJ would be a “wedge” to a real Brexit.
He added: “The PM would be unwise to put his own neck on the chopping block. It won’t just be 28 ‘spartans’ voting against this, it will be a large number of Brexiteers, plus a number who don’t see him as the future, plus a number who perhaps were pro-Remain but think Brexit needs to be delivered.
“It’s not a small minority, it is getting into the majority of the parliamentary party, certainly into treble figures.”
A Cabinet source has told The Telegraph that Mr Sunak is prepared to offer the DUP an 11th-hour olive branch to win their support for his deal.
In a sign of the frustration within Government, they branded the DUP “purists” and said they were to blame for getting “the country into such a mess over the last five years”.
They added that Maros Sefcovic, vice-president of the European Commission, was “already boasting about the role of the ECJ being protected”.
A DUP source told The Telegraph they did not expect the EU to move on eliminating the role of the ECJ, adding: “Everything now points to Sunak effectively caving in to the EU on the crucial issue, abandoning the Protocol Bill.”
A senior government official said: “If we can find a way to satisfactorily resolve the issues with the Protocol then you wouldn’t need the Bill. But we haven’t resolved them yet.”