Former Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said it was “crucial that parliament votes” on the long-awaited deal to end the dispute with the EU over post-Brexit trade deals in Northern Ireland.
Villiers was speaking just hours before European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was to meet Rishi Sunak for what Number 10 called “final talks” on a revised Northern Ireland protocol pact.
Villiers, who campaigned for Brexit while in office in Northern Ireland, where the majority voted to stay in the EU, said he did not know how he would vote on the new deal but wanted one that would allow the Democratic Unionist party to return. to Stormont’s devolved government.
“I want to see a deal that provides a return to power sharing in NI,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
In what could be the most dangerous week of his political life, the prime minister will meet von der Leyen at lunchtime on Monday.
The cabinet will meet later in the afternoon, when Sunak, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris will give an update on the negotiations.
Sunak and von der Leyen will head to Windsor, raising speculation over whether the head of the European Commission will meet King Charles in a move that was widely criticized after plans for such a deal were first made for Saturday and then scrapped.
Dominic Raab, deputy prime minister and former Brexit secretary, is backing a deal. On Sunday, he said it would mark “a significant achievement” for Sunak and be “a significant change in the deal paradigm” for Northern Ireland.
“If we can get past that … it will be a really big deal. I think it would mark a paradigm shift, particularly for these communities,” he told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg programme.
But whether Sunak will be immune to the forces that toppled Theresa May is unclear. The DUP is not expected to deliver an instant verdict on the deal, but few expect it to back it as the party has been demanding an end to the application of EU law in Northern Ireland, arguing that this makes it a colony of law. from the EU.
Pro-Brexit supporters in the conservative party’s European Research Group are also unlikely to support a deal that retains a role for EU law and the European court of justice.
As the concept of the protocol is based on EU law enforcement, it is highly unlikely to be scrapped as this would scrap the protocol entirely.
Mark Francois, former chairman of the ERG, has demanded that the EU law be “stripped” from Northern Ireland, warning Sunak that MPs are “not stupid”.
He told Sky that just distancing the ECJ’s role, giving Northern Ireland courts and Stormont ministers a say in disputes and EU law, is not good enough. “Just putting in some intermediate stages, with a situation where you still end up with the European court of justice, is effectively a sophistry,” said François.
“We are not stupid. What we want is a situation where EU law is removed from Northern Ireland so that it is treated in the same way as England, Scotland and Wales,” he added.