The Government appears to be panicking after Boris Johnson gave a speech criticizing the Government’s Brexit deal this morning. Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris came out in defense of the agreement, dubbed the Windsor Framework, saying the UK is “decisively taking back control” from Brussels. This comes just hours after Mr Johnson said the deal is “not about the UK taking back control”.
Mr Heaton-Harris is currently on an “away day” in Windsor with hundreds of other MPs, as the Prime Minister attempts to galvanize support for his deal and face down the opposition.
Mr Sunak finalized the Windsor Framework with EU chief Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday in a bid to end years of tensions over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
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.
Earlier Downing Street said there had been “misunderstandings” around the agreement.
But the PM’s official spokesperson declined to expand on what those misunderstandings might be, telling reporters: “We understand there will be questions. Obviously, there are some misunderstandings as to how the deal will work.”
But in a statement this afternoon, Mr Heaton Harris said he was “encouraged” by the reaction to the Windsor Framework, despite both Boris Johnson and other powerful factions of the Tory party questioning the deal.
In his statement, the Northern Ireland Secretary said: “With our deal we are decisively taking back control in a host of areas from Brussels.
“It ensures unfettered access for Northern Ireland-made goods to the whole UK market, restores the balance of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and provides Stormont with the opportunity to reject the application of any harmful new EU rules in the few areas in which they remain.
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“The agreement rewrites the treaty to end the presumption of continuing alignment on regulations through the Stormont brake, puts medicines supply back in the UK’s hands, restores critical tax freedoms and ensures that the same food can be on supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland as the rest of the UK through our green lane.”
The powerful European Research Group – made up of eurosceptic Tory backbenchers – is currently weighing up whether or not to support the deal.
The Democratic Unionist Party – whose support is seen as essential for the success of the deal – are also weighing up whether to back it, with some MPs from within the party voicing criticism.
On Monday, ERG Chairman Mark Francois said Tory Brexiteers will take at least two weeks to scrutinize Mr Sunak’s Brexit deal with an “extremely fine-tooth comb”.
Criticizing the deal at a speech at a global soft power summit in Westminster this morning, Mr Johnson said he will “find it very difficult” to vote for the agreement his successor but one struck with the EU.
The former PM said: “I’m conscious I’m not going to be thanked for saying this, but I think it is my job to do so: we must be clear about what is really going on here.
“This is not about the UK taking back control, and although there are easements this is really a version of the solution that was being offered last year to Liz Truss when she was foreign secretary.
“This is the EU graciously unbending to allow us to do what we want to do in our own country, not by our laws but by theirs.”
But a source close to the European Research Group earlier today told the Daily Express the speech “doesn’t change anything”.
The source said the former PM’s address was “classic Boris”, adding that they were “not surprised at all” that he made the intervention.