Rishi Sunak is falling into the trap as Theresa May on Brexit, Jacob Rees-Mogg has said amid a mounting Brexiteer backlash against his proposals to end the UK-EU protocol row.
The former cabinet minister said the tactics being followed by the prime minister were like those used by Ms May – brought down at No 10 over her failure to get agreement on Brexit deals.
Mr Rees-Mogg said Mr Sunak had failed to get the DUP and hardliners in the European Research Group (ERG) before briefing newspapers on his planned deal for the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“I don’t know why so much political capital has been spent on something without getting the DUP and the ERG on side first,” he told his ConservativeHome podcast.
Comparing Mr Sunak to Ms May, Mr Rees-Mogg said: “This is very similar to what happened with Theresa May. So a story would appear in The Times and Downing Street would say, ‘No, this isn’t quite right, it isn’t at all right’.”
“And then a week or two would go by and it would turn out to be completely right and they would hope that people would just conveniently fall in behind the announced policy,” he added.
“Life doesn’t work like that. It’s important to get support for it first before you finalise the details and that doesn’t seem to have been done here.”
Mr Rees-Mogg, who has said he agrees with the DUP’s seven tests for any prospective deal, warning that the unionist party’s opposition to any agreement that maintains a role for EU laws and judges.
“There seems to me to be no point in agreeing a deal that does not restore power-sharing,”e he said. “If it doesn’t achieve that objective, I don’t understand why the government is spending political capital on something that won’t ultimately succeed.”
The former Brexit opportunities minister also said the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill had the support of “the person who had a mandate from the British voters” – Boris Johnson – as he questioned Mr Sunak’s handling of the situation.
Home secretary Suella Braverman has hinted at a potential rift in cabinet, as she warned Mr Sunak not to ditch the protocol bill – aimed at allowing UK ministers to unilaterally rip up checks on goods.
She said on Monday that the unilateral protocol bill remains one of the “biggest tools we have in solving the problem on the Irish Sea” after Mr Johnson warned that ditching the bill would be a “great mistake”.
It comes as Mr Sunak was warned that some of his ministers may resign over his deal with the EU if it jeopardises Northern Ireland’s place in the union.
“The naivety is astonishing,” the minister told The Times. “The strategy hasn’t worked. People won’t allow something that doesn’t ensure sovereignty. Ministers will resign.
“I couldn’t look myself in the eye and vote through something I thought would undermine sovereignty in Northern Ireland.”
Tory MPs in the ERG are expected to meet for talks later on Tuesday even as Downing Street insisted that a final deal had not yet been struck.
Tory Brexiteers are prepared to force a showdown vote in parliament on a compromise deal that the PM is still expected to strike, The Independent understands.
One member ERG said rebels could stage a vote of their own if Mr Sunak were to refuse one and enforce a protocol deal without DUP backing. Another ERG source said: “There are all sorts of ways a vote can be arranged.”
Sir Keir Starmer has urged the PM to allow the Commons to have its say on any final deal, offering Labour support to secure the approval of any new agreement in the event of any Tory rebellion.
On Monday, foreign secretary James Cleverly and the EU’s Maros Sefcovic agreed to hold a face-to-face meeting in the coming days after a “productive” video discussion. Sources in Brussels welcomed the move to in-person talks, but said a location had not been set.
Tory minister Maria Caulfied suggested the deal might not get done this week, a minister has suggested. “I don’t know about this week,” she told Sky News – urging MPs to give Mr Sunak “time and space” to “thrash out” an agreement.