19th Feb 2023

Boris Johnson NI intervention not entirely unhelpful, says Mordaunt

An intervention by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson on post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland is not “entirely unhelpful”, Commons leader Penny Mordaunt has said.

He has urged Rishi Sunak not to abandon legislation that would give the government powers to scrap parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Ms Mordaunt told the BBC the bill had helped persuade the EU to negotiate.

She also said any deal must work for all communities in Northern Ireland.

The protocol came into effect in 2021 and aims to ensure free movement of goods across the Irish land border by conducting checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain instead.

However, unionist parties, who support Northern Ireland being part of the UK, oppose the protocol and argue that placing an effective border across the Irish Sea undermines Northern Ireland’s place within the UK.

Negotiations between the UK and the European Union to try to resolve issues with the protocol have been going on for more than a year but sources have suggested a deal could be sealed next week.

The momentum suggested a new agreement was very close but there is now unlikely to be anything concrete until the middle of the week at the earliest.

On Saturday, a source close to Mr Johnson said he believed it would be “a great mistake” to drop the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which many Conservatives see as an important bargaining chip for the UK to gain concessions from the EU.

Ms Mordaunt also suggested the bill had aided negotiations with the bloc.

There has been trepidation and a sense of inevitability about the former PM and Brexit cheerleader getting involved in the arguments around new arrangements for Northern Ireland – and Mr Sunak’s team may not see his intervention in the same light as Ms Mordaunt.

Ms Mordaunt, who also campaigned to leave the EU during the 2016 referendum, told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme: “I think the prime minister would give credit to his predecessors for enabling us to get this far.

“We have the bill… and in part it is because of that that we are now able to have these negotiations and the EU is talking about things that previously it said it wouldn’t talk about.”

She added: “It’s a reminder to the EU the bar that they have to get over. But ultimately it’s not really about what Boris Johnson or any members of the House of Commons think about a deal. It’s what the people of Northern Ireland think about the deal.”

The bill, which was first introduced by Boris Johnson, is currently paused in Parliament while the UK and EU try to hammer out a new agreement.

The BBC understands the EU will not move ahead with a deal unless there is a commitment by the UK to drop the Protocol Bill.

A senior government official has said if issues with the protocol arrangements can be resolved then there will be no need for the bill to go further in Parliament.