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Suella Braverman fires warning shot over Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal

Suella Braverman – Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The Home Secretary has fired a warning shot at Rishi Sunak, praising a piece of Brexit legislation he may ditch as “one of the biggest tools” to end the Northern Irish impasse.

Suella Braverman praised the impact of the Northern Ireland Protocol Billwhich would give the UK powers to unilaterally change trading rules in the province, after Boris Johnson, the former prime minister, was reported to be concerned about plans to jettison it.

She is the second Cabinet Minister to praise the Bill, after Penny Mordaunt, the House of Commons leader, similarly argued that it was key in persuading Brussels to give ground in talks.

Mr Sunak has not pushed the law through the House of Lords while negotiations over Brexit rules in Northern Ireland have been progressing and, according to government insiders, could scrap the Bill once a deal is revealed.

Mr Johnson was said this weekend to think ditching the legislation would be a “great mistake”.

Mrs Braverman told the BBC: “We’ve been aware for some time now of challenges relating to trade, customs and sovereignty when it comes to Northern Ireland and the Northern Irish protocol.

“The legislation that the Government introduced is one of the biggest tools that we have in solving the problem on the Irish Sea.

“It’s clear and it’s right that the Prime Minister is committed to finding a pragmatic solution to resolve these issues, which are affecting the people of Northern Ireland, and that we find a solution that’s pragmatic and workable both for the EU and the United Kingdom. “

The Tory maneuver comes with UK and EU officials still discussing the shape of a final agreement to change the post-Brexit trading terms for Northern Ireland.

A deal is no longer expected on Tuesday, following warnings from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) that the plans “fall short” of what they could agree to.

An announcement could come later this week, although Government insiders warned against firm predictions on timing.

The Government is hoping to reach a deal by the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in April.

Amid the stand-off over the deal, Brandon Lewis, the former Northern Ireland secretary, has called for changes to the historic peace accord in a column for The Telegraph.

He argues that it could be time to change election rules which require the largest Unionist and Republican parties to share power, given the emergence of political parties in neither camp.

Mr Lewis writes: “We must be honest about the fact that it was a brilliant framework for peace but is proving a poor foundation for effective government.

“The question we must dare to ask ourselves is: what next?” How can the Agreement be evolved to better support effective and resilient government for all the people of Northern Ireland?”

He specifically suggests getting rid of the system that means Stormont must be shared between the largest Unionist party and the largest Republican party.

Mr Lewis writes: “Democracy cannot succeed when it is set in tram lines that can never cross.”

That the DUP can effectively veto the return of power sharing in Northern Ireland has given it significant sway over the Brexit negotiations.

Eurosceptic Tory MPs have warned Mr Sunak against signing a deal that isn’t supported by the DUP.

Sir Bernard Jenkin, a former Tory deputy chairman, said any pact that is not supported by the DUP “is just going to make things worse”.

They have also warned against ditching the Protocol Bill.

Simon Clarke, a former leveling up secretary, said doing so would “weaken our hand very considerably” in talks with the EU.

“It is absolutely imperative tactically to give our negotiators the strongest possible hand to play with Brussels,” he told Times Radio.

He also warned Mr Sunak it would be “desperately ill-advised” to rely on Labor votes to get an agreement through the Commons.

‘Boris is being Boris’

Mrs Braverman once headed up the European Research Group, a body of Eurosceptic Tories who championed the delivery of Brexit in the wake of the 2016 EU referendum decision.

On Sunday, Ms Mordaunt, another prominent Brexit campaigner, praised Mr Johnson’s push to keep the Protocol Bill in place.

She told Sky News: “Boris is being Boris. I wouldn’t say this is a completely unhelpful intervention.”

The positions on the Bill are nuanced. Mr Sunak and Downing Street want to keep the Bill to bring about a deal, but have not spelled out whether it should remain in place after an agreement is struck.

Mr Johnson and Liz Truss, when she was foreign secretary, had insisted that a negotiated settlement to the Northern Irish trade issue was preferable to the law at the time they unveiled it last year.

Mr Sunak and Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, are understood to have now taken personal charge of the talks.

The pair are hammering out a “political declaration” that will cement the promises Brussels has made to slash border checks.

It will sit alongside the Protocol after Mr Sunak abandoned previous UK demands that Brussels rewrite the original pact itself.

Micheal Martin, the Irish deputy prime minister, signaled on Monday that Brussels was willing to grant fresh concessions to win their support for the deal.

He said the bloc’s negotiators were “very conscious” of Unionist concerns about the imposition of laws in the Province over which Belfast has no say.

But Sammy Wilson, the DUP’s Brexit spokesperson, said his party would not accept any agreement “which still keeps us in the EU single market”.

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