Tory infighting over Brexit reignited on Tuesday as hardline Eurosceptics branded a key part of Rishi Sunak’s new deal for Northern Ireland trade ties as “practically useless”.
The Tory European Research Group tore into the “Stormont brake” in the Windsor Framework which the Prime Minister agreed with Brussels.
However, the ERG stopped short of saying yet whether its MPs will vote against the “brake” on Wednesday after the damning legal claims by its “star chamber” of lawyers.
In a statement, the ERG said: "The star chamber’s principal findings are: That EU law will still be supreme in Northern Ireland; the rights of its people under the 1800 Act of Union are not restored; the green lane is not really a green lane at all; the Stormont brake is practically useless and the framework itself has no exit, other than through a highly complex legal process."
Earlier, a Cabinet minister said the vast majority of Tory MPs will back Mr Sunak’s Windsor Framework deal in the Commons vote on Wednesday.
The Democratic Unionist Party has vowed to oppose the Government in the vote over the so-called “Stormont brake” which is part of the pact with the EU for Northern Ireland’s trading ties.
But Transport Secretary Mark Harper dismissed the likelihood of a major revolt by Tory MPs.
He told Sky News: “I hope that the DUP in time will accept the deal.
“They obviously are not going to support it this week but I think the vast majority of my colleagues will.”
Former Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg, an arch Eurosceptic, told GB News that “the problem with the Northern Ireland Protocol and the Windsor Framework is that it leaves Northern Ireland still subject to a degree of EU interference and rules”.
DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson criticised ministers, telling TalkTV: “We (the Government) are prepared to split up the union, wreck the internal market of the UK in order to protect the EU single market.
“Our Government, if it had any backbone and any spine, should be standing up for the UK.”
But the Windsor pact will get through the Commons, with the backing of Labour.
The deal is designed to ease trade frictions and Unionists fears associated with the Northern Ireland Protocol, which was part of ex-PM Boris Johnson’s Brexit agreement.
The “brake” would allow a minority of elected Stormont members 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.
The Prime Minister’s end goal with the framework is to restore powersharing in Belfast.
The DUP, the largest Unionist party in the Northern Ireland Assembly, is currently blocking devolution at Stormont in protest at the terms of the protocol.
London, Brussels and Washington are keen for the Stormont institutions to be restored ahead of next month’s landmark 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
US President Joe Biden is among those set to visit Northern Ireland to mark the deal that established powersharing in Belfast.