Boris Johnson is poised for a major intervention on the contentious Northern Ireland Protocol, the Daily Express can reveal. This comes as Rishi Sunak holds crunch talks in Belfast as part of his efforts to resolve ongoing issues with the deal. Mr Johnson is said to be preparing to capitalize on the division over Mr Sunak’s proposed deal and use it as a “springboard” to improve his own standing within the Conservative party.
The Prime Minister arrived in Northern Ireland last night ahead of an announcement on the protocol expected to come next week, potentially as early as Tuesday, if the final issues can be resolved.
While Downing Street and EU leaders are thought to be edging closer to an agreement, there are concerns that the deal will allow the European Court of Justice to maintain a role in policing the deal.
This has been met with anger from members of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party and the right wing of the Tory party.
A Conservative Party insider warned: “The ERG is wound up. The Boris faction is licking their lips.”
The former Prime Minister is preparing to write an opinion piece on the issue, which is expected to be published in the coming days, the party insider claimed.
They said: “It won’t be all guns blazing, it will be classic Boris. He won’t go out and say the UK has been betrayed, he’ll be a lot more clever than that. It will be something like ‘ Rishi, I know you can get a better deal’, while also being out there scheming behind his back.”
The insider claimed that Mr. Johnson will “then come out swinging” if Mr. Sunak doesn’t deliver.
“Boris is waiting for the local elections in May, but this issue is the perfect springboard for what he wants”, the source explained.
Sources close to Mr. Johnson have played down the suggestion that he will make the intervention.
The UK has been locked in talks with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has caused severe delays and shortages, since October 2021.
Mr Johnson’s behind-the-scenes manoeuvring comes despite new polling showing that Mr Sunak is a more popular choice among both the general public and Tory voters.
A new poll conducted by Techne UK for the Daily Express found that 34 percent of the British public think Mr. Sunak would be a better Prime Minister than the Uxbridge and South Ruislip MP, while just 28 percent said Mr. Johnson would be better.
Of those who voted for the Conservative Party in 2019, 45 percent of people said Mr. Sunak would be a better choice, while just 37 percent backed Mr. Johnson.
Leave voters were marginally more split on the issue, with 38 percent backing the current PM, while 37 percent threw their weight behind Mr. Johnson.
The DUP is currently staging a boycott of the Stormont Assembly in protest of the protocol, refusing to return until seven key issues are resolved within the protocol.
Reports suggested the new deal will meet the DUP’s seven tests but MPs have cast doubt that any agreement would do so as a result of concerns that the ECJ will maintain a role in policing the protocol.
A bigger role for the ECJ would stall any progress in solving the issue, as it would be unacceptable for both the DUP and for many in the right of the Tory Party.
David Jones – chief of the pro-Brexit Conservative European Research Group – told the Daily Express this week that it is “amazingly unlikely” that the seven tests have been met.
The ERG and the DUP are understood to be working “in lockstep” with each other, both being heavily opposed to the ECJ having any role in policing the protocol.
Mr. Jones also warned that the PM has not discussed the potential agreement with the powerful backbench group.
Meanwhile, DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr told the Daily Express last night that he has so far seen nothing that “offers the basis to restore power-sharing”.
He also called for Mr Sunak to “stand up” to the EU, warning: “He can’t leave part of the UK subordinate to EU legal jurisdiction”.
Earlier today, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told broadcasters it appeared “real progress” had been made in negotiations between London and Brussels, but he cautioned that more work was needed to get a final deal “over the line”.