Where are you, Boris? Ex-PM out of sight as he considers rebellion over Brexit deal
Boris Johnson is keeping his head down as he considers whether to rebel over the post-Brexit deal struck by Rishi Sunak and EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.
The former prime minister – whose last public engagement was four days ago – skipped yesterday’s Commons session as Mr Sunak presented his deal to end the Northern Ireland Protocol row to widespread acclaim.
One Labour MP was heard shoting “Where’s Boris?” in the Commons. It has been 20 hours since the deal was struck, but Mr Johnson has yet to offer his support.
A source close to the ex-PM said he would “study and reflect” on the Windsor Framework. But they did not deny a report that Mr Johnson had asked the DUP to without support until they had looked carefully at the agreement.
The former PM has contacted the DUP to ask them to “think hard” about backing it, according to Politics Home. A spokesperson for Mr Johnson said they wouldn’t comment on private discussions.
The jet-setter has been travelling around the world for lucrative speaking gigs, but is understood to be in the country this week. He was last seen visiting Tory MP Jonathan Gullis’ Stoke-on-Trent North constituency on Friday.
On Monday Mr Sunak appeard to confirm he had phoned Mr Johnson to brief him on the protocol deal before announcing it. The current PM asked him to “pipe down” on Brexit after a series of recent interventions, a Sunak ally told The Telegraph.
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 … This is about the people of Northern Ireland and what is best for them.”
Mr Johnson – who last week urged the PM to use his unilateral bill to override the protocol as an alternative to a UK-EU deal – has been accused by ex-chancellor George Osborne and others of using the issue to try to “bring down” Mr Sunak.
But the deal has been warmly received by many leading Tory MPs. One Conservative told BBC Newsnight: “This is such a good deal it will finish off Boris. He will have nowhere to go.”
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson warned that “there remain key issues of concern” about Mr Sunak’s deal, while DUP MP Ian Paisley said his gut instinct was that it “doesn’t cut the mustard”.
Tory Brexiteers in the European Research Group (ERG) are to meet on Tuesday evening, and will convene MP Sir Bill Cash’s so-called “star chamber” of lawyers to scrutinise the deal before deciding whether to back it.
Mr Sunak, who is also expected to speak to backbench MPs at the 1922 Committee around 5pm on Tuesday, defended the deal at length as he sought to see off any threat of rebellion from within his own ranks.
Several senior MPs told The Independent they expected a rebellion to be limited to only around 20 MPs – enough for Mr Sunak to get his deal through parliament without relying on Labour support.
Even Johnson ally and Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg gave the deal a caution welcome, telling ITV’s Peston that Mr Sunak had achieved “more than I thought was possible”.
Mr Rees-Mogg claimed Mr Johnson’s original Brexit agreement was not to blame, claiming the Northern Ireland Protocol had contained “the means for its own amendment”.
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”.
The Independent understands Mr Sunak will give several days before the Commons vote he promised on Monday. One ERG source said they had been told the vote won’t be held this week.
But some supportive MPs fear a delay will give hardliners too much time to discover things they don’t like about the Windsor deal.