Rishi Sunak is poised to push through his Brexit deal even if the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) declines to back it as key Conservative MPs wait on legal advice to reveal any flaws in the smallprint.
The Prime Minister told his colleagues the DUP would need “time and space” to consider the Windsor Framework he has struck with the EU to replace the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol, urging calm as he added: “The last thing the public wants is another Westminster drama.”
But sources close to Mr Sunak have privately warned unionists they will be unable to secure a better set of arrangements for Northern Ireland by resisting the deal agreed this week.
A No 10 source pointed to concessions made by Brussels, such as the “Stormont brake”, which gives Northern Irish politicians a veto on new EU laws, adding: “We managed to get the EU to do things they said they would never do. I don’t think you can argue that we should have gone further.”
A senior Whitehall official said: “We have a deal, we are not looking to reopen the deal. You can’t rebuild a relationship by reaching an agreement and then immediately asking to reopen it.”
Speaking to the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, the Prime Minister said last night: “Brexit was all about control. So it was wrong that the people of Northern Ireland could have rules imposed on them without them having any say. We have solved that.
“Stormont now has a brake and the UK a veto on any change to the rules in Northern Ireland.”
Mr Sunak promised to continue speaking to DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, saying: “We should give him and the DUP time and space. As you heard in the chamber last night, there are a spectrum of views in their party. They deserve the opportunity to have their lawyers pore over the text, to reassure themselves that it really does do what it says.
“So, let’s not pressure them for an instant answer. Let’s also remember that the last thing the public want is another Westminster drama.”
Another Cabinet minister told i the party needed to be handled carefully, saying: “The DUP have been burnt before, so they’re going to take time to mull it over and they’re going to be seen to take time to mull it over.”
Conservative Brexiteers in the European Research Group (ERG) said they had commissioned a “star chamber” of lawyers chaired by veteran MP Sir Bill Cash to spend around a fortnight examining the detailed legal texts of the Windsor Framework before the group comes to a decision on whether or not to endorse the deal.
Simon Clarke, a Cabinet minister under Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, said: “It is much better to get this right once and for all than to rush into it.”
Peter Bone, a leading Eurosceptic, heaped praise on the “impressive” Mr Sunak, saying he was “completely on top of everything” but stopping short of backing the new agreement.
Steve Baker, the Northern Ireland minister who previously led the ERG, said: “There is not another deal available, this is what has been negotiated and it is good.”
He is understood to have told his old colleagues in the group that they should back the Prime Minister’s deal because the main alternative way of fixing the Protocol, using legislation to rewrite it unilaterally without consent from the EU, was no longer viable.