The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, is facing accusations of avoiding scrutiny over his new Northern Ireland deal with the EU, with senior Brexiteer Sir Bill Cash MP claiming he has repeatedly refused to appear before his Commons committee.
Sir Bill’s European Scrutiny Committee has warned the government against preventing Parliament from having “meaningful input” into the new agreement before it is finalised, arguing that doing so could risk being seen as a “fait accompli”.
The committee wrote to PM Sunak on March 2, inviting him to appear before them to give evidence on the landmark Windsor Framework, but he declined the invitation on March 10.
The committee then offered alternative dates of March 16 and 17, but Sunak continued to refuse. Sources from the European Research Group of Brexiteer MPs have warned the Prime Minister that his refusal to answer questions may impact their assessment of the new deal.
Sir Bill argues that Parliament should not be “railroaded” into a deal without sufficient time to make an educated choice over whether to proceed or renegotiate, particularly if the EU wishes to do so.
“MPs in the House must have a meaningful chance at input before this happens,” he said.
In response to the report, an ERG source questioned why Sunak might be trying to avoid scrutiny over the deal.
“Rather than attempt to bounce MPs onto an artificial timetable it would be best if he does what he promised to do and comes to Parliament to answer MPs’ concerns in detail,” the source said.
The Prime Minister’s letter of March 10 turning down the initial invitation has been published by the committee, revealing that he instead offered them the opportunity to cross-examine the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris.
He wrote, “I regret that heavy diary commitments mean that I am unable to accept your invitation. Nonetheless the Government welcomes Parliamentary interest in the Windsor Framework.”
Mr Sunak added that his office is currently in discussions with the House of Commons Liaison Committee to organise a date for his next appearance, during which he would be “happy to answer questions about the Framework should the Committee decide it should be one of the issues for discussion”.
The Prime Minister of the day generally appears before the Liaison Committee twice a year and is considered one of the most testing methods of scrutinising a sitting Prime Minister as they must demonstrate they are on top of all aspects of their brief.