Boris Johnson told to ‘put up or shut up’ and back Sunak’s Brexit deal
Boris Johnson has been urged to “put up or shut up” over Rishi Sunak’s new Brexit deal with EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen as the former prime minister considers whether to rebel on the issue.
The source close to the former prime minister did not deny a report that Mr Johnson had asked the DUP to without support until they had carefully studied at the agreement.
Most Tory MPs have reacted enthusiastically to the Windsor Framework, but Mr Johnson’s allies in the DUP and hardliners in the European Research Group (ERG) are “taking their time” to consider whether they can back it.
One senior Tory MP said Mr Johnson should “put up or shut up” – urging Mr Sunak and the Tory whips’ office to suspend him if he opposes the Windsor deal. “Support the deal or lose the whip,” the Sunak supporter told The Independent.
Another senior Tory MP said: “Boris needs to stop playing games and realise this is all over. It’s time to be magnanimous and embrace the fact it’s a really good Brexit deal.”
Former deputy PM David Lidington also called on Mr Johnson to come out and back the deal. “I hope he will recognise what Rishi Sunak has achieved and give the PM his full support,” he told The Independent.
It has been more than 40 hours since the historic deal was struck at Windsor, but Mr Johnson has yet to offer his support. He took part in a Commons debate on energy security, but did not mention Brexit. Labour’s Ed Miliband made a jibe by telling Mr Johnson “it’s important not to want your old job back”.
Mr Sunak is thought to have phoned his predecessor to brief him on the deal before announcing it. The PM asked Mr Johnson to “pipe down” on Brexit after a series of interventions, according to a Sunak ally.
Asked if he had spoken to Mr Johnson, Mr Sunak told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Of course I speak to the former prime minister. But this is not about any of us, it is not about personalities.”
One ally said the PM should use the huge “momentum” he has behind the deal and hold a promised vote in the Commons next week, rather than let the DUP and ERG keep finding details they don’t like in the full text.
No 10 would not be drawn on the timing of the vote on the deal, saying Mr Sunak was “keen to avoid putting pressure on political parties” as they continue to study the deal of the compromise struck with Brussels.
Several senior MPs told The Independent they expected a rebellion to be limited to 20 of the most staunch hardliners “at the most” – enough for Mr Sunak to get his deal through parliament without relying on Labour.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson – who has warned of “remain key issues of concern” – suggested on Tuesday that the unionist party could take a long time before offering a verdict.
“Our party officers, our assembly members, our MPs and ultimately even our party executive will determine the party’s approach on this issue,” he told Good Morning Ulster. “We will consult and we will take our time.”
Reports of splits within the DUP on whether to back the deal and return to Stormont were denied by Sir Jeffrey. It follows scathing remarks by DUP hardliner Ian Paisley Jr, who said his “gut instinct” was that the agreement “doesn’t cut the mustard”.
Although Sir Jeffrey raised the idea of the DUP suggesting changes, No 10 signalled there is no room to go back to the EU with alterations. “We stand ready to have further talks with those parties if they have questions about how it works in practice,” said Mr Sunak’s spokesman.
Tory Brexiteers in the ERG are set to meet on Tuesday evening, and will convene Sir Bill Cash’s so-called “star chamber” of lawyers to scrutinise the deal.
One ERG member was overheard in a shouting match with a fellow Tory in parliament on Tuesday, as the hardliners come under pressure to back the deal. “We will read it in full and will make our mind up,” the ERG MP said, adding: “Don’t tell me what I think!”
Ahead of discussions tonight, Mark Francois, chairman of the ERG, said he hoped that “we won’t find any nasty surprises which would materially undermine the position of Northern Ireland”.