Downing Street is gearing up for a new Brexit showdown with Tory MPs with the first vote on the Prime Minister’s decision on the Northern Ireland protocol due on Wednesday.
The European research group of conservative Eurosceptic MPs has not yet issued a final verdict on the so-called Windsor framehowever, Downing Street expects any rebellion to be limited.
In accordance with TalkTvDowning Street is now “confident” that up to 20 MPs could oppose the Brexit deal when it is brought before the Commons next week.
Asked whether the number of 20 MPs sounded right, Conservative MP Alec Shelbrooke told the broadcaster: “I think they are about right. I think there is a hardcore that will not accept any compromises at all, but then there is no way out of the fact that you want to comply with the Good Friday Agreement.
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“I think the Prime Minister has done an excellent job with this agreement. I think it was something that a lot of people didn’t think we’d get to this point.”
He added: “The public wants it to be over, the parliament wants it to be over. I think there are a few Japanese soldiers who don’t believe the war is over, but I think they are very, very few now.”
House of Commons leader Penny Mordaunt told parliament on Thursday that MPs will get the chance to debate and vote on the Stormont Brake element of the deal immediately after the Prime Minister’s Questions jousting on March 22.
Rishi Sunak struck a deal on the Northern Ireland protocol in February, called the Windsor Framework, after months of negotiations involving three prime ministers.
This was announced at a joint press conference with the participation of the Prime Minister and the Chairman of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.
The Prime Minister hailed the proposals as a “watershed moment” for Northern Ireland that would end uncertainty.
Hard anti-protocol Democratic Unionist Party is yet to decide whether it will back the deal and restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland, while a handful of supporters of Sunak’s exit from the backbench have also expressed concerns about the deal.
The DUP has been boycotting the devolved administration at Stormont for more than a year in protest at the post-Brexit trade arrangements known as the Northern Ireland Protocol.
It highlighted that the Windsor Framework was a step in the right direction, but argued that some areas needed change.
Party representatives spent the last week in Washington, talking to US representatives about the situation in Northern Ireland.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer took the opportunity to call on the DUP to return to power-sharing arrangements.
He said: “I say to all the parties in the North, but especially the DUP, let’s get down to the business of the people, to the business of devolution and self-government.”
Sir Geoffrey Donaldson, leader of the DUP, responded: “I would urge the senator to read some history books. Maybe I would learn a little more about what is actually happening and about the reality of the situation.”
Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Tony Blair has backed new trade arrangements in Northern Ireland.
Giving evidence on the workings of the Good Friday Agreement yesterday, Mr Blair said Northern Ireland Affairs select committee: “I support what the government, this prime minister, has done with regard to the Windsor agreement in that I believe it represents the most practical way forward that minimizes all theoretical objections.”
The Labor Party has said it will support the Windsor basis in any Commons vote. Speaking at an event in Derry recently, Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer said he believed a new deal between the UK and the EU would bring an end to the impasse.
He noted: “You will also see in the parliament that there is quite a consensus behind the protocol. That’s why I told Rishi Sunak early on, we [Labour] will vote for the protocol.
“I believe that if you negotiate in good faith and bring people together, you will get better results than if you just try to divide and argue. It feels that this time we made progress because there was a different attitude to the negotiations.”