The European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative MPs has heavily criticised Rishi Sunak’s Windsor Framework deal but will not vote as a bloc against it.
ERG chairman Mark Francois MP described the “Stormont brake” key element of the deal as “practically useless”, that the overall agreement will leave EU law supreme in Northern Ireland and that the so-called “green lane” for trade is “not really a green lane at all” and that “the framework itself has no exit.”
But he could not confirm that members of the group would vote against the deal when it goes to the Commons on Wednesday.
The group will meet again on Wednesday morning to discuss how to vote, but a senior ERG source suggested its members would not act as a bloc, raising the prospect of the MPs splitting in the Commons division.
“Everyone is free to make their own minds up,” the source said, pointing out that on the “meaningful votes” on Theresa May’s Brexit deal the ERG “had a debate” and then “individual members made up their own minds”.
Both the source and Mr Francois also refused to say how many MPs were now members of the ERG, amid suggestions that the size of the group is much-diminished since it took down Mrs May and her Brexit deal in 2019.
The ERG commissioned the so-called “star chamber” of lawyers, led by Conservative MP Sir Bill Cash, to consider the documentation around the Windsor Framework when it was announced last month.
Their intervention comes after the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) said it would unanimously vote against the framework when it is put to the Commons on Wednesday.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the party leader, said many of their concerns rested with how the “Stormont brake” would operate. He said on Monday: “Whilst representing real progress the ‘brake’ does not deal with the fundamental issue which is the imposition of EU law by the Protocol.”
He added that the party’s officials had “agreed that in the context of our ongoing concerns and the need to see further progress secured whilst continuing to seek clarification, change and re-working that our Members of Parliament would vote against the draft statutory instrument on Wednesday”.
Many Conservative MPs have also expressed frustration that the vote on the Windsor Framework promised by Mr Sunak will be undertaken via a statutory instrument, meaning MPs will only have around 90 minutes for debate.
This story is being updated.