Tory MPs accuse Downing Street of ‘playing fast and loose’ in the Brexit deal vote.

Eurosceptic Tory MPs have accused Rishi Sunak’s government of “playing fast and loose” by smuggling a key vote on the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal on Northern Ireland into a fleeting parliamentary debate next week.

Conservative MPs are awaiting a vote on the general Windsor framework agreed by Britain and the EU last month, which aims to set out revised post-Brexit trade arrangements for Northern Ireland.

Instead, the Commons will receive a series of votes on certain elements of the Brexit deal over the coming days through a type of secondary legislation called a statutory instrument, often debated for just 90 minutes.

MEPs are due to vote on the most important of those tools on Wednesday, linked to the so-called Stormont brake, which gives London an effective veto over all new EU laws affecting the trade in goods in Northern Ireland.

Downing Street made it clear this week that it regards the vote on the brake as “essentially the vote on the whole deal” given its key role in the broader framework of Windsor.

“We believe the Stormont brake is at the heart of the framework. Basically, we don’t have to vote on the framework as a whole, but the Prime Minister has obviously made a commitment,” Number 10 said.

The Government will have no problem getting the bill through Parliament as the Northern Ireland Agreement has the backing of Labour, the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats.

But Downing Street is still concerned about the prospect of opposition from hardline Tory Brexiters belonging to the European Research Group and MPs from the Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland’s main unionist party. Its leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, has called for “further clarifications, revisions and changes” to the deal.

Number 10 is particularly concerned about the DUP because if it rejects the deal, the party could continue its boycott of the region’s Stormont assembly, which began in May 2022.

Peter Bone, a Eurosceptic former minister, said it was “bizarre” that the government was not voting on the whole framework.

“A vote on an ordinance is not what was promised. Every time the government tries to play fast and loose with Parliament, the government loses,” he said, adding, “You really shouldn’t be doing that.”

Another Conservative Brexiteer MP said the SI vote was indeed a “meaningful vote” reflecting the Commons’ view of the deal as a whole.

“The concern of many people is that you can only get 90 minutes in an SI debate,” he said. “It’s hard to say that in such a short amount of time you get a full account of the views of members of the House of Representatives.”

Both the ERG and DUP have yet to say how they will vote next week, although ERG chairman Mark Francois has indicated the “star chamber” of the group’s lawyers will release their already-submitted verdict as early as Monday.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson has expressed concern about the deal, saying he would find it “very difficult” to back it.

Johnson faces his own test next Wednesday when he appears before the Commons Privileges Committee. The cross-party group of MPs is investigating whether Johnson lied when he told Parliament he was unaware of parties breaking the Downing Street lockdown at the height of the pandemic.

Video: The Brexit Effect: How leaving the EU affected Britain Tory MPs accuse Downing Street of ‘playing fast and loose’ in the Brexit deal vote.

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