It was evident from the moment images of a smiling Rishi Sunak shaking Ursula von der Leyen’s hand began streaming into sitting rooms across the UK that securing the approval of the DUP and Brexiteers would be difficult. Triumphant scenes quickly gave way to DUP frowns, and now, Boris Johnson has pulled the rug from under his foe.
The former PM said voting for Sunak’s deal would be “very difficult”. Speaking at Westminster, he said:
“This is the EU graciously unbending to do what we want in our country, not by our laws but by theirs.
“I’m going to find it very difficult to vote for something like this myself, as I believe we should have done something different.”
“Brexit is nothing unless we in this country don’t do things differently.”
Calling for the restoration of his Northern Ireland Protocol Bill if the Windsor Framework is a failure, Johnson may have used the occasion to garner support for a possible comeback.
Currently, most Tory MPs are expected to vote for the deal. The Labour party’s support means the DUP does not have a veto. But dissenting voices are growing louder. Across various media outlets, high-profile detractors have been voicing their opposition; Jacob Rees Mogg on GBC News, Ben Habib in the Express, and in The Telegraph, David Frost coined the deal “a bitter pill”.
The Belfast Telegraph put the Windsor agreement against the DUP’s seven tests, concluding it only passes two.
Earlier in the week, Rishi Sunak urged ” giving the DUP time and space”.
No 10 hints it will proceed with or without DUP approval
Despite Sunak’s reassurances to the DUP, No 10 signalled earlier this week that the government would proceed with Windsor Framework even without DUP approval. After speaking to the 1922 committee on Tuesday evening, Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker conceded that the implementation would take time.
“People are clearly concerned about the DUP being willing to go back into powersharing.
“The prime minister was clear they need to be given time to talk all the issues through. This is a very difficult issue for them. I believe they will agree that this is a good deal.”
The European Research Group (ERG) said it would charge a sub-group of MPs and legal advisors to thoroughly examine the agreement to identify contentious issues. For his part, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said:
“We’ve listened very carefully to what the PM has said. And now we’re looking at the legal text, the political declaration, the command paper, and we want to translate what it says against what the PM’s telling us and see what that means for Northern Ireland.”
But sources close to the discussions leading up to the deal told The Irish Times that the expectation exists that Sunak will proceed with the agreement even if the DUP doesn’t support it.
DUP may continue to keep Stormont doors shut
Even if the Windsor Framework passes all stages and becomes law, it is uncertain whether the DUP will agree to enter government and facilitate the reestablishment of the powersharing Northern Ireland Executive. The party will feel pressure from all sides to relinquish its dogged refusal.
Speaking to Belfast Live ahead of her party’s conference at the weekend, Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said there is “no excuse” for the DUP to block Stormont.