Boris Johnson has criticised Rishi Sunak’s post-Brexit deal with the EU to resolve the Northern Ireland Protocol row – claiming it doesn’t “take back control” from Brussels.
The former PM said it would be “very difficult” to vote for the agreement struck by Mr Sunak, urging the PM to consider using his bill to unilterally override the protocol if it “doesn’t work”.
Mr Johnson told the Global Soft Power Summit in London: “When I looked at the deal we have, I have mixed feelings. I’m conscious of where the momentum is.”
But he added: “I will find it very difficult to vote for something like this myself because I believe we should have done something different no matter how much plaster came off the ceiling in Brussels.”
The former Tory leader said “we’ve got to hope that it works”. Mr Johnson said he understood why people want to “move on” from Brexit rows and accept the deal. “I get that.”
But, referrring to the Northern Ireland Protocol bill – ditched by Mr Sunak – Mr Johnson added: “If it doesn’t work, I hope we have the guts to deploy that bill again.”
He added that he wanted to 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,” he said.
“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.”
Showing he has no intention of letting up on the issue, he added: “I will continue to campaign for what I think of as Brexit … because this is nothing if it is not a Brexit government, and Brexit is nothing if we in this country don’t do things differently.”
Mr Johnson also suggested he hoped the DUP would return to Stormont, despite their own concerns about the Windsor Framework struck by Mr Sunak and EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen.
Referring to DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, he said: “I can hope he can find a way of reconciling himself and his part of getting back to power-sharing.”
He conceded he made mistakes in signing his Northern Ireland Protocol that caused the DUP to walk out of powersharing because of trade barriers in the Irish Sea.
“I thought those checks would not be onerous since there isn’t that much stuff that falls into that category; most of the goods stay in Northern Ireland,” he said.
Muttering, the former prime minister added: “It’s all my fault, I fully accept responsibility.”
Mr Johnson had been urged to “put up or shut up” over the deal, after he was said to be considering joining any revolt of Eurosceptics.
Several MPs told The Independent they expected any rebellion against the deal in the Commons to be limited to 20 of the staunchest hardliners “at the most”.
Mark Francois, the chairman of the European Research Group (ERG), said it could take as long as a fortnight for the Tory Brexiteer group to carry out its own “legal audit” of the deal.
Mr Sunak wants to give the DUP and the Tory Eurosceptics “space and time” to consider the deal before holding a vote in the Commons.
But a vote could be delayed until after Jeremy Hunt’s Budget on March 15, according to The Times.
Lord Frost, Mr Johnson’s former Brexit negotiator, said the protocol changes agreed by the PM and EU Commission were “all worth having” – but claimed the government was “overclaiming” the merits of the deal.
Lord Frost said his criticism “doesn’t mean the deal shouldn’t go ahead”, but added: “It leaves the government still only partly sovereign over all its territory. Just as in 2019, that is a bitter pill to swallow.”
The prime minister is not prepared to make any changes to his landmark deal as he stares down the DUP and critics and on his own backbenches.
No 10 said that the government believed it had secured “the right deal for all parties”, while Northern Ireland Office minister Steve Baker has warned: “This is the deal … there is not a different deal available”.