Rishi Sunak warned by Boris Johnson that dropping NI Protocol Bill would be 'great mistake'

18 February 2023, 23:47 | Updated: 20 February 2023, 09:09

Rishi Sunak has been warned by former-PM Boris Johnson that it would be 'great mistake' to drop the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill in favour of a new Brexit deal.
Rishi Sunak has been warned by former-PM Boris Johnson that it would be 'great mistake' to drop the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill in favour of a new Brexit deal. Picture: Alamy

By Chris Samuel

Rishi Sunak has been warned by former-PM Boris Johnson that it would be a 'great mistake' to drop the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill in favour of a new Brexit deal.

Making his first intervention on Brexit since he resigned from office last year, Boris Johnson urged Mr Sunak not to rip up the legislation, which is thought among Brexiteers to be the key bargaining chip with the European Union.

On Saturday, a source close to Mr Johnson told the Telegraph: “His general thinking is that it would be a great mistake to drop the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.”

The Bill would allow the Government to override large parts of the NI Protocol, and end the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

It's understood that the PM is of the belief that he will no longer need the Bill if he is able to get a revised Brexit deal.

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Though a deal is expected to be announced this week, Rishi Sunak tempered expectations on Saturday, warning that a deal is "by no means done", but that there is "an understanding on what needs to be done".

Speaking during a Q&A session after his speech at the Munich Security Conference, the PM said Britain wanted to have a positive relationship with the European Union.

But despite hinting at some progress, he stressed that there were "real issues that need resolving".

Boris Johnson warned successor Rishi Sunak that scrapping the NI Protocol Bill would be a 'great mistake'.
Boris Johnson warned successor Rishi Sunak that scrapping the NI Protocol Bill would be a 'great mistake'. Picture: Alamy

The deal is controversial among hardline Brexiteers opposed to ceding any control to Europe, as the ECJ would be the ultimate arbiter of disputes that emerge from NI about EU law.

Rishi Sunak and president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen issued a rare joint statement on Saturday in which they said “very good progress” had been made on resolving the Protocol issue.

The DUP, which staunchly opposes the bill, has called on Mr Sunak not to "cave in" to Brussels and stand by the Protocol.

Rishi Sunak warned on Saturday that a deal between Britain and the EU is "by no means done", but that there is "an understanding on what needs to be done".
Rishi Sunak warned on Saturday that a deal between Britain and the EU is "by no means done", but that there is "an understanding on what needs to be done". Picture: Alamy

A Cabinet source told the outlet that Rishi Sunak is prepared to extend an olive branch to the DUP in a late bid to win the party's support.

But a DUP source told the paper they didn't expect the bloc to budge on scrapping 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 source said the Bill wouldn't be required if they are able to satisfactorily resolve the issues with the Protocol, but added: "we haven’t resolved them yet".

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