‘Great mistake’: Boris Johnson warns Rishi Sunak over post-Brexit Northern Ireland protocol
Boris Johnson has warned Rishi Sunak it would be a “great mistake” to drop the Northern Ireland protocol amid speculation a deal between the UK and the EU is close.
It comes as a new post-Brexit trading arrangement for Northern Ireland is expected to emerge within days after the Prime Minister met with Stormont leaders in Belfast on Friday.
But ex-PM and Brexiteer Johnson waded into the debate this weekend to make clear his opposition to abandoning the NI protocol bill, which allows the UK to ignore some EU rules.
A source close to Johnson told Sky News: “His general thinking is that it would be a great mistake to drop the Northern Ireland protocol bill.”
It’s been suggested that any new deal could overwrite the protocol bill – brought in by Johnson during his premiership – which is currently making its way through the Lords.
Under the terms, products would be divided between “green” and “red” customs lanes for use in NI and the Republic of Ireland (RoI) in order to limit bureaucracy, while the European Court of Justice (ECJ) is expected to retain oversight of single market issues.
ECJ involvement was a European Commission red line – while the UK wanted to see its role removed entirely – but phrasing in the deal is expected to highlight alternative solutions, with any disputes anticipated to be aired first in a national court.
Commons leader Penny Mordaunt told Trevor Phillips on Sky News that the former leader’s intervention was not “completely unhelpful”.
She said: “Boris is being Boris. But I wouldn’t say this is a completely unhelpful intervention.”
Mordaunt described Johnson’s work on the bill as having “helped us get where we are,” adding “it’s always been our preference to try and have a negotiated settlement”.
“The intervention by a source close to the previous prime minister is helpful to remind the EU of that Bill, and what this deal actually has to deliver.”
Former Labour spin doctor Lord Mandelson accused Johnson of trying to “wreck” the deal to undermine Sunak.
The ex-Northern Ireland secretary said: “There’s nothing Johnson is doing now or, indeed, throughout our recent history with the EU that could possibly be described as helpful.”
“He’s trying to wreck the thing because he’s opposed to the prime minister. He wants – and his supporters want – to undermine the prime minister.”
Mandelson said he hoped Mr Johnson would remove “himself entirely from this matter,” adding “a period of silence on his part I think would be welcome.”
It’s thought a deal could come early this week, with a Parliamentary debate the next day.