A group of Brexit-backing Conservative MPs have labelled a key element of the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal “practically useless”.
The analysis of the Stormont brake by the European Research Group (ERG) follows the verdict of a so-called “Star Chamber” of lawyers charged with considering the details of Rishi Sunak’s deal with the EU on post-Brexit arrangements in Northern Ireland.
But Conservative backbencher and ERG chairman Mark Francois declined to say how members will vote on the deal, saying that the group will meet again on Wednesday to discuss the matter before the vote in the Commons on the Stormont brake.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has already said it will vote against the framework.
Any backbench rebellion is unlikely to put the fate of the UK-EU agreement in jeopardy, with Mr Sunak able to rely on the support of Labour and other parties in getting the deal passed.
The group’s report is highly critical of parts of the deal, saying it “makes only limited legal changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol, on the basis of temporary legal powers under the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement which do not permit any changes to ‘essential elements’.”
“Claims that this amounts to a new framework or structure are not correct,” it adds.
Despite that criticism, Mr Francois refused to say how members will vote.
But noting secondary legislation on the Stormont brake was only published on Monday, he said the group will not be “hoisted by our own petard”.
“Because we need to allow people time to digest this, the ERG will be meeting again tomorrow… once people have had an opportunity to digest all this documentation,” he said.
“We as a group will discuss what attitude, if any, to take and we will be having that meeting just before PMQs.”
Downing Street rejected the ERG’s concerns, with the Prime Minister’s official spokesman saying: “The brake addresses the democratic deficit and provides a clear democratic safeguard for the people of Northern Ireland.
“I think we continue to strongly believe that this is the best deal for Northern Ireland, both for the people who live there, businesses who seek to operate there and it is to the benefit of the entire United Kingdom.
“This is a good deal and we continue to urge all parliamentarians to back it.”
The DUP’s Sammy Wilson welcomed the ERG analysis, saying it “exposes the hollowness of the Government’s rhetoric on the Windsor Framework”.
He said that the report confirmed the view of DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, adding: “By handing over control of border checks, the Government has ensured that in future the continuation of any EU concessions on trade restrictions can be withdrawn at the whim of the EU.”
Meanwhile in Brussels, European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic confirmed that EU countries had unanimously approved the framework at a General Affairs Council on Tuesday.
“All 27 EU member states have today shown full support for the Windsor Framework, and this clearly confirms the EU’s commitment to the outcome of the joint EU-UK efforts,” he said.