Blog: Boris Johnson is ‘pound-shop Nigel Farage’ for opposing Brexit deal, says Steve Baker – The Independent

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Boris Johnson risks looking like a “pound shop Nigel Farage” by voting against Rishi Sunak’s Brexit deal, according Tory minister Steve Barker.

In blue-on-blue Brexiteer infighting, the Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker criticised Mr Johnson’s decision to come out against the protocol compromise agreement with the EU.

The Brexit-backing minister said the former PM’s stance risked him being viewed as a pale imitation of the former UKIP and Brexit Party leader.

Mr Baker also said Mr Johnson’s statements about what his Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and protocol arrangement with the EU had achieved “turned out not to be accurate”.

He also criticised Liz Truss, who is also expected to vote against the Windsor Framework deal struck by Mr Sunak and EU president Ursula von der Leyen last month.

“What I would say is they are both better than this,” he said. “We’ve partly reached this point thanks to Liz Truss setting the process in train.

“And today’s measures are better, of course, than the protocol that Boris Johnson put in place, a protocol which he spoke about and those things turned out not to be accurate.

“So he has a choice: he can be remembered for the great acts of statecraft that he achieved or he can risk looking like a pound shop Nigel Farage. I hope he chooses to be remembered as a statesman.”

Mr Baker – a former senior figure in the ERG – was said to have been kicked out of the group’s WhatsApp group over the insult about Mr Johnson.

Referring to Mr Baker’s insult, Johnson ally Jacob Rees-Mogg told the Commons: “I would take that as a great compliment. I would like to be the Woolworths of Nigel Farages.”

Mr Baker urged the DUP – opposed to the Sunak deal – to accept compromises to Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade arrangements and restore powersharing at Stormont.

Responding to a question from DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Mr Baker said: “He knows exactly what he and his colleagues need to do to help me to serve him and service Northern Ireland – and that is of course to restore the devolved institutions.”

The European Research Group (ERG) of Tory MPs said it is “strongly recommending” its members oppose regulations to implement the so-called Stormont brake – a key element of the Windsor Framework.


ERG chairman Mark Francois said that around 30 Tory MPs were present at today’s meeting of hardliners – where they were addressed by DUP leader Sir Jeffrey. A revolt of close to 40 would force Mr Sunak to rely on Labour to get his deal through parliament.

Other potential rebels include former home secretary Priti Patel and former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who were both at the ERG meeting.

“The fact that the DUP has come out very firmly against it means that the deal has not gone far enough,” said Mr Francois, claiming the agreement had been “rushed and over-sold”.

David Jones MP, deputy chairman of the ERG, told BBC Radio Ulster: “If they do have to rely upon Labour votes, then that’s a very, very strong signal that the Conservative Party in parliament is unhappy with this proposal.”

But Tory MPs have dismissed the ERG as a diminished force. Brexiteer Martin Vickers told The Independent he thought that no more than 20 hardliners in the ERG might vote against the deal. “The vast majority want to support it. It’s time to move on.”

(PA Archive)

During the 2019 election campaign, Mr Johnson told Northern Ireland businesses they could put customs declaration forms “in the bin” because there would be “no barriers of any kind” to trade crossing the Irish Sea.

However, the protocol kept the province following EU rules on goods in order to avoid a hard border in Ireland. Mr Sunak’s Windsor Framework has looked to alleviate some of the red tape caused by the protocol by establishing check-free customs lanes for GB goods destined only for Northern Ireland.

Both Mr Johnson and his short-lived successor Ms Truss have announced they intend to vote against the “Stormont brake” element of Mr Sunak’s deal in the Commons on Wednesday when it is put to MPs.

While it is a vote on one part of the PM’s agreement with Brussels, it is being read by No 10 as parliament having its say over the entire pact.

Mr Baker – an ardent Brexiteer who was influential in bringing an end to Theresa May’s premiership over her approach to EU negotiations – said Mr Johnson and Ms Truss should “be backing the Windsor Framework today”.

Mr Baker also addressed arguments made by Mr Johnson and Ms Truss’s allies that the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill – legislation that would have unilaterally overwritten parts of the Brexit treaty with Brussels – should not have been dropped. He said the bill would have “wrecked” relations with the EU.

The minister said the UK government did not expect to be relying on Labour and opposition MPs to win the vote on the framework. Sir Keir Starmer’s party is set to back the accord in the face of a growing Tory rebellion.

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