Rishi Sunak’s new deal on post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland has cleared its first House of Commons test despite opposition from some Conservative MPs and the DUP.
MPs voted 515 to 29, majority 486, in favour of regulations to implement the Stormont brake section of the Windsor Framework.
Former British prime ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss said they would be voting against the Government ahead of the debate.
The European Research Group (ERG) of Tory MPs also said it was “strongly recommending” its members oppose the regulations.
Labour offered its backing and division list analysis will show how many Tories voted against.
The brake mechanism would allow a minority of MLAs in the Stormont Assembly to formally flag concerns about the imposition of new EU laws in Northern Ireland – a move that could see the UK Government veto their introduction in the region.
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris, ahead of the vote, told MPs: “Without this measure, Northern Ireland would continue to have full and automatic dynamic alignment with EU goods rules with no say for the Northern Ireland Assembly and no veto for amending or replacing those measures.
“That is an intolerable situation and I urge all MPs to vote to end that full and automatic dynamic alignment.”
Mr Heaton-Harris said the EU could initiate a dispute if it believed the UK had improperly used the brake.
The Windsor Framework is a good deal for the people of Northern Ireland
✅ Removes the Irish Sea Border
✅ Restores the free-flow of trade
✅ Protects NI place in our Union
Today’s vote on the Stormont Brake ensures power is put back in the hands of NI and Westminster pic.twitter.com/5CoJPvRIuo
— Chris Heaton-Harris MP (@chhcalling) March 22, 2023Advertisement
But he earlier explained: “We need to be clear that any dispute could only arise after the rules have been disapplied in Northern Ireland and the resolution of that dispute would be for an arbitration panel. The European Court of Justice would have no role in resolving that dispute.”
There were clashes on the Tory benches as Chris Clarkson (Heywood and Middleton) said the phrase “pathological denial of reality” came to mind when he listened to veteran eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash.
Sir Bill, chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, earlier said laws made in the EU “still apply to and subjugate the people of Northern Ireland to the EU and not to the rest of the UK”.
Conservative MP John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) said: “The Windsor Framework not only restores the balance of the Belfast Agreement, but also offers the province much greater prosperity by way of inward investment, and greater prosperity helps most situations.”
But Tory former minister Mark Francois, who chairs the ERG, asked Mr Heaton-Harris to accept the Stormont brake is not a “veto” but a “route to arbitration”.
DUP MP Jim Shannon (Strangford) said the Windsor Framework was being “shoved” through Parliament and questioned the Conservatives’ commitment to the union.
I have consistently indicated that fundamental problems remain notwithstanding progress made.
Consequently there is not a sustainable basis at this stage to enable us to restore Stormont. We will vote against the proposal today & continue to engage with the Government to secure…
— Jeffrey Donaldson MP (@J_Donaldson_MP) March 22, 2023
He called the deal the “Windsor knot”, adding: “The United Kingdom gives the EU sovereignty over the courts and power over Northern Ireland.”
Conservative former cabinet minister Dame Andrea Leadsom said: “This Windsor agreement enables a huge opportunity in Northern Ireland not just to be a precious part of our UK, but also to be the target of enormous amounts of foreign direct investment coming into Northern Ireland because it will have the advantage of being an integral part of the UK, but having open access to EU markets as well.”
Tory former Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith said: “I believe if we can bank the wins in this deal and secure over time stable powersharing, then we can look forward to decades and decades of overwhelming support for Northern Ireland remaining an integral part of the United Kingdom.”
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is currently blocking devolution at Stormont in protest at the terms of the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol.
The protocol was designed to prevent a hardening of the land border on the island of Ireland and moved regulatory and customs checks to the Irish Sea, creating economic barriers on the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The UK and EU agreed the framework as a way to cut the red tape created by the protocol.