Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak leaves 10 Downing Street to attend the weekly Prime Ministers' Questions session in parliament in London on March 22, 2023. On the same day, Sunak is set to win parliamentary approval for a key element of a post-Brexit deal on Northern Ireland. (PHOTO / AP)
LONDON – British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is set to win parliamentary approval on Wednesday for a key element of a post-Brexit deal on Northern Ireland, a victory tainted by a lack of support from the province's biggest unionist party and some of his lawmakers.
Sunak has sought to end years of wrangling over Brexit by revisiting one of the trickiest parts of the negotiations – to ensure smooth trade to Northern Ireland without creating a so-called hard border with Britain or the European Union.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak agreed with the EU to introduce the "Stormont brake", aimed at offering Northern Ireland more control over whether to accept any new EU laws, as part of the so-called Windsor Framework of measures to soothe post-Brexit tensions
He agreed with the EU to introduce the "Stormont brake", aimed at offering Northern Ireland more control over whether to accept any new EU laws, as part of the so-called Windsor Framework of measures to soothe post-Brexit tensions.
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But in Wednesday's vote in the lower house of parliament, those he most wanted to win over – Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Conservative eurosceptics in the European Research Group (ERG) and his two predecessors, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss – are set to rebel.
Despite the opposition, Sunak is expected to win the vote – the rebellion could be contained to still give the Conservatives a majority and if not, the opposition Labor Party says it will back the government.
Sunak has urged lawmakers to support the brake.
"(It) fundamentally restores or deals with the democratic deficit that existed," his spokesperson said.
The brake enables Britain to prevent new EU laws applying to goods in Northern Ireland if asked to do so by a third of lawmakers in the province's devolved legislature.
The ERG has described the measure as "practically useless" and the DUP complains that it does not apply to existing EU law.
The group's chairman Mark Francois told reporters the ERG was recommending to its members to vote against the government to show their discontent over what he called an "oversold" agreement that was a "brake with no brake pads".
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Sunak hailed securing the deal last month as a "decisive breakthrough". But the DUP has said the new deal does little to ease its concerns over the post-Brexit trading arrangements, saying the "brake does not deal with the fundamental issue which is the imposition of EU law".
The Northern Irish party, at odds with opinion polls suggesting 45 percent of voters in the province support the framework versus 17 percent opposed, has said it will keep talking to the government to try to assuage its concerns.
The DUP has for a year boycotted Northern Ireland's power-sharing government and has said it will not return to it until the post-Brexit trade arrangements are overhauled.
After the ERG published a legal document rubbishing most of the measures contained in the Windsor Framework, former prime minister Johnson, the face of the campaign to leave the EU, and his successor, Truss, said they would vote against the brake.
Johnson doubled down on his view that Sunak should stick to his policy of standing by legislation which would tear apart the current deal with the EU.
READ MORE: UK's Sunak in Belfast to start selling his new Brexit deal
"The proposed arrangements would mean either that Northern Ireland remained captured by the EU legal order … or they would mean that the whole of the UK was unable properly to diverge and take advantage of Brexit," he said.
His stance was criticized by long-time Brexit campaigner and minister in the Northern Ireland office, Steve Baker, who as a member of the ERG often stymied the attempts of earlier governments to strike deals with the EU.
"He's got a choice. He can be remembered for the great acts of statecraft that he achieved, or he can risk looking like a pound shop (Brexit campaigner) Nigel Farage," he said.