Steve Baker tonight admitted Tory MPs are waiting with “batted breath” to see if the DUP backs Rishi Sunak’s Brexit deal. The Northern Ireland Office minister also insisted the agreement is as good as it is going to get.
Speaking after the Prime Minister’s speech to the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers, Mr Baker said: “I cannot see how we will get better than this … this is the deal.
“I’m really clear, there isn’t a different deal available, this is what’s been negotiated and it’s good.
“People are worried about the DUP but there is an earnest sense of relief and support.
“I think we all believe he’s done it, but now we just wait with bated breath to see if the DUP agrees.”
Mr Sunak arrived to sustained banging at the 1922 Committee as he sought to shore up support on his new agreement on post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland.
He was understood to have told colleagues he had “spent a lot of time” with DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson as he seeks to break the deadlock in the region.
Mr Sunak said: “And I would just say one thing to you all: we should give him and the DUP time and space.
“So let’s not pressure them for an instant answer.
“Let’s also remember that the last thing the public wants is another Westminster drama.”
The Prime Minister finalized the Windsor Framework with EU chief Ursula von der Leyen yesterday.
The pact comes after years of tensions over the Northern Ireland Protocol and painstaking negotiations.
The deal removes barriers on trade across the Irish Sea and hands a “veto” to politicians in Stormont on EU law.
But it still includes a role for the European Court of Justice, with the DUP and Tory Eurosceptics in the European Research Group (ERG) set to go through the details with a fine-tooth comb in the coming days.
The powerful ERG is meeting tonight and will convene Sir Bill Cash’s so-called “star chamber” of lawyers to scrutinize the deal before deciding whether to get behind it.
The reaction so far has been largely positive, with DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson welcoming “significant progress” even as he warned that “there remain key issues of concern” regarding the agreement.
The view of the party will be crucial, if the deal is to help restore power sharing at Stormont.
Conservative MPs have been told to prepare for a vote in two weeks’ time.
The PM is understood to have decided to give MPs as much time as possible to allow them to study the document as he seeks to win over the DUP and Brexiteers.
A senior member of the ERG told Express.co.uk: “I think that is very wise of the Prime Minister. We cannot rush this and he needs to give people time.”
Mr Sunak, on a visit to Northern Ireland earlier to sell the deal, said: “People need the time to engage with it, understand it, ask the questions.
“We’re going to give them that and answer the questions in the meantime, but I’m confident they will come to see this for what it is, which is I think a historic achievement that gets the balance right for Northern Ireland.”