Daily Mail

Sunak’s warning over Keir, ‘Mister 2nd referendum’

- By Tom Witherow Senior Political Correspond­ent

THE Prime Minister joked that trusting Sir Keir Starmer with Brexit was like asking ‘Mr Fox to look after the hen house’ as he sold his Northern Ireland deal to Conservati­ve MPs yesterday.

Rishi Sunak branded the Labour leader ‘Mr 2nd Referendum’ as he told the 1922 Committee of backbench Tories that the public are sick of Brexit ‘drama’.

He said: ‘A poll the other day had Labour having a lead on who would best manage Brexit.

‘That is crazy. Mr 2nd Referendum is no more the best person to implement Brexit than Mr Fox is to look after the hen house.’

Mr Sunak, who is famous for his love of drinking Coke and visited a Coca-Cola factory in Lisburn yesterday, boasted of the concession­s he won from the EU.

He added: ‘If I had stood here a few months ago and told you that we would get the EU to reopen the treaty text and rewrite it, you would have thought that I had had more than a Coca-Cola.’

The Prime Minister also warned his critics that failure to back his Northern Ireland Brexit deal could see the Conservati­ves hammered at the next election.

Failing to settle the long-running saga over Northern Ireland would mean ‘voters will begin to doubt our ability to deliver’ any political change, he said.

The comments were echoed outside the meeting by Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker, who said: ‘This [deal] is what is available... it really wouldn’t be sensible to drop it and go back on it.’

MPs from the pro-Brexit European Research Group (ERG) of Tory MPs met last night in Westminste­r – but said they will not formally give their assent to the deal for at least a fortnight, after their lawyers have scoured all 100 pages of the legal text in detail.

ERG chairman Mark Francois said: ‘We hope to have something within around about a fortnight, but if it takes longer than that, then it takes longer than that.’

Former Levelling Up Secretary Simon Clarke, speaking outside the meeting, added: ‘It takes time. It is a complex process. There have been improvemen­ts but there are also big questions, that’s why we need the experts.’

Mr Sunak told the 1922 Committee the Democratic Unionist Party, and its leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, to have ‘time and space’ to assess the deal.

He said: ‘They deserve the opportunit­y to have their lawyers pore over the text, to reassure themselves that it really does do what it says, so let’s not pressure them for an instant answer.’

The PM has won widespread support for the deal from his own party, including a number of senior Brexiteer MPs who stood up in the Commons to support it on Monday night.

Former Tory minister Stephen Hammond, speaking outside the 1922 meeting, said there were ‘no dissenting voices’.

Conservati­ve MPs hope that reaching agreement on Northern Ireland could unlock a bounce back in the polls ahead of the May local elections.

The party is more than 20 points behind Labour in most opinion polls after months of internal drama.

When Mr Sunak left the meeting after around 45 minutes of questionin­g he appeared to have won over more key hardliners.

MPs have been promised a binding confirmato­ry vote on the deal, in addition to any votes in the Commons.

‘That’s why we need the experts’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom