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Johnson faces Eurosceptic revolt over Northern Ireland protocol bill

Boris Johnson has been warned by Tory eurosceptics that they will vote down his controversial bill to override the Northern Ireland protocol if it is watered down and does not completely “neutralize” the Brexit text.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss agreed to tighten the bill following last-minute representations by the pro-Brexit European Research Group, sparking a fierce cabinet battle on Wednesday. The law will be published next week.

Johnson, backed by cabinet minister Michael Gove, criticized Truss for making the changes, arguing it would heighten tensions with Brussels and make a negotiated settlement with the EU impossible.

The bill to give ministers the power to override the protocol is now being reformulated, but Tory Eurosceptics fired a warning shot at Johnson, telling him they could vote it down unless it meets their demands.

“We want to neutralize the protocol,” said a senior ERG figure, arguing that the text – part of Johnson’s 2020 Brexit deal with the EU – caused political instability in the region.

The protocol provides for post-Brexit trade arrangements for Northern Ireland, which will remain part of the EU’s internal market for goods, so that free trade can continue across an open border with the Republic of Ireland.

But pro-British trade unionists in Northern Ireland oppose the protocol because it creates a trade border on the Irish Sea for goods traveling east to west from Britain.

The Democratic Unionist Party is refusing to rejoin the Northern Ireland executive, along with the nationalist party Sinn Féin, in protest of protocol.

Bernard Jenkin, an ERG member, told the Commons: “If the government presents a bill that does not offer a serious prospect of restoring power-sharing in Northern Ireland and restoring the Good Friday Agreement, I will vote against it. †

Truss agreed to amend the bill to meet the ERG’s demands that the European Court of Justice be deprived of any role in Northern Ireland and that “sunset clauses” remove key parts of the protocol within four years .

Johnson has ordered Truss to water down the bill, but that raises the nightmare scenario of the legislation being blocked just a week after 41 percent of his party’s MPs voted to impeach the prime minister.

Pro-European Tories, including former Prime Minister Theresa May, oppose the bill because they believe it could be illegal under international law and would damage Britain’s position in the world, widening the gap with the EU .

The idea of ​​joining forces with Eurosceptic Tory MPs, who may find the measure too weak, is fueling fears among some in the cabinet of a political disaster in the making.

Ministers on Wednesday questioned whether the legislation to tear up Johnson’s own international treaty was legal; others worried that the DUP hadn’t guaranteed her to rejoin the Stormont director even if the bill passed.

Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labor party, said with “good faith, statesmanship and confidence around the negotiating table”, the UK and the EU should be able to make technical changes to remove trade frictions caused by the protocol. to take.

But he said Johnson lacked the skills to negotiate a deal and accused him of taking “a wrecking ball” at relations between the UK and Ireland, which are at a very low ebb.

Irish Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney warned that the “EU stance has hardened” on the protocol.

“I don’t think there is a single capital city across the EU, or anyone in the European Commission, who believes, at any rate at this point, that the British government is serious about a negotiated solution,” he said.

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