Daily Mail

Rishi to press on with vote amid first signs of dissent

With Boris ‘poised to break his silence’ on Ulster delay...

- By Jason Groves and Martin Beckford

RISHI Sunak will press ahead with a Commons vote on his new Brexit deal this month, even if the DUP comes out against it.

Downing Street said yesterday that the Democratic Unionists and Tory Euroscepti­cs would be given ‘time and space’ to consider the ‘Windsor Framework’, which aims to tackle post-Brexit trade problems with Northern Ireland.

But, amid indication­s that DUP splits could delay a verdict for months, a Tory source said the Prime Minister was not prepared to ‘wait indefinite­ly’.

Ministers want to press ahead with implementi­ng the deal, which has ‘real world benefits’ for Northern Ireland, and have pencilled in a possible vote the week after the Budget, which takes place on March 15.

The move came as Tory MP Nadine Dorries broke the fragile Tory truce over Brexit by accusing the PM of using ‘smoke and mirrors’ to sell his deal. The former culture secretary became the first senior Tory to criticise the agreement with Brussels.

Former Brexit minister Lord Frost called the deal ‘oversold’. In a lukewarm endorsemen­t he said it ‘will help’ ease the postBrexit problems affecting the Province.

Sources close to Boris Johnson flatly denied reports that he has decided to back the deal. There was speculatio­n last night that he will use a speech in London today to set out his thoughts.

He has made no public comment since the deal was published on Monday. A source said Mr Johnson was ‘still studying and reflecting on the Government’s proposals’. Downing Street said the two men had had a ‘good discussion’ when the PM briefed Mr

Johnson on the outline of the deal at the weekend.

Tory MPs have overwhelmi­ngly backed Mr Sunak’s plan, with a number of prominent Euroscepti­cs including David Davis, Liam Fox and Andrea Leadsom hailing it as a diplomatic coup. But the European Research Group of Tory MPs has said its ‘star chamber’ of lawyers will need two weeks to comb through the fine print.

And Unionist sources have suggested the DUP may take months to deliver a verdict. It walked out of power-sharing last year in protest at the impact of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Former leader Peter Robinson said rejecting the deal would put the DUP on ‘perilous ground’. In a Facebook post he said: ‘Serious thought must be given as to whether a better deal could be attained in the future.’

But DUP chief whip Sammy Wilson said it was ‘not a great deal’. He asked whether it would ever be possible to use the new ‘Stormont Brake’, which Mr Sunak says will allow the Province to block future EU laws.

Mrs Dorries also questioned the Brake’s value, tweeting that it ‘can only be triggered in the most utter, extreme circumstan­ces,’ adding: ‘Huge quantities of smoke, mirrors and spin at play.’ She said it was ‘patently not true’ that Mr Sunak has removed ‘any sense’ of a trade border in the Irish Sea.

The PM said he was ‘over the moon’ with the ‘decisive breakthrou­gh’ he had achieved. He said the Windsor Framework would allow free-flowing trade across the Irish Sea, remove red tape and ensure British laws apply in the Province.

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