A report by the European Research Group (ERG)’s legal experts recommending that Members of Parliament (MPs) vote against Rishi Sunak’s Brexit deal has sent shock waves through the political establishment.
The report, presented to members of the ERG today, warns that the deal “doubles down” on the hated Protocol and increases the power of the EU over Britain.
It further argues that the Windsor Framework does not restore UK sovereignty over Northern Ireland or meet any of the ERG’s red lines.
The report, which comes on the heels of the Democratic Unionists (DUP) announcing their decision to vote against the deal, has raised the possibility that Sunak may need Labour votes to get his deal through Parliament.
The ERG, a group of Tory MPs advocating for a hard Brexit, has around 50 Conservative MPs in attendance at their meetings, making their opposition to Sunak’s deal potentially significant.
The report was issued by Sir William Cash, chair of the star chamber of legal and constitutional experts, which includes Martin Howe KC, Barnabus Reynolds and ERG deputy chairman David Jones.
The group has concluded that the deal fails to achieve the two main objectives sought in renegotiating the deal. It notes that the rights of the people of Northern Ireland under the Acts of Union 1800 are not restored, and the hard border remains between the two different legal systems that comprise Great Britain and the newly created EU law regime in Northern Ireland.
The report also argues that the deal could push governments to comply with EU rules and risk incentivizing the UK to copy future EU rules and adjustments to existing EU rules, to avoid the imposition of new checks across the Irish Sea. The report further states that the deal could have far-reaching consequences, such as preventing a new state aid regime to help UK industry.
The Stormont Brake, supposedly available for the Northern Ireland Assembly, has also been dismissed by the expert panel as a failed model. The report noted that a similar deal offered to Norway in 2011 collapsed by 2013 because it was unworkable.
The ‘brake’ is of very narrow application in theory and is likely to be useless in practice, the experts concluded.
The report, therefore, represents a significant challenge to Sunak’s attempts to secure a Brexit deal, particularly as he may need Labour votes to get it through Parliament.
The ERG’s opposition, combined with that of the DUP, could make the passage of the deal difficult and represent a significant setback for the Prime Minister.