Rishi Sunak has been warned not to duck parliamentary scrutiny of his post-Brexit deal on Northern Ireland, after the British prime minister declined a committee grilling.
The House of Commons European scrutiny committee — headed up by senior pro-Brexit Tory MP Bill Cash — confirmed Tuesday that Sunak, who has been in the United States, had opted not to appear at a session planned for Tuesday or commit to a future date.
They’re urging the British government to give lawmakers “meaningful input” into the so-called Windsor Framework inked between Brussels and London.
Sunak has promised that MPs will get a vote on the framework, which is still awaiting final signoff by the two sides, and aims to put to bed months of wrangling between the U.K. and the European Union over post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland. The agreement is currently being scrutinized by Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which is boycotting power-sharing in the region over objections to the existing setup.
A letter from Sunak to Cash cites “heavy diary commitments” for the committee snub, instead offering up Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris for a future date. The U.K. prime minister has been in the U.S. in recent days for talks with President Joe Biden, and is gearing up for the government’s latest budget Wednesday.
But the European scrutiny committee said it was “disappointed” by Sunak’s decision, stressing that it had not taken “the decision to invite the prime minister to give evidence lightly.” A face-to-face session with Sunak would, they argued, have offered the PM a chance to sell the deal.
“The prime minister briefing us and providing cogent and compelling answers to questions on recent developments would have strengthened the government’s position that members (of all political parties) should vote to approve the Windsor Framework when it is put to the House,” they argued in a new report.
Cash, the committee chairman, warned that the U.K. parliament should not be “railroaded into a deal that it has not had sufficient time to come to an educated choice over whether to proceed or renegotiate,” and urged the government to avoid a “rush” to get the agreement over the line.