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Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
PA Number 10 Downing Street
# Northern Ireland Protocol
Tory leadership race: Who is backing the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill?
All eight contenders for the leadership are set to back the bill in some form.

THE RACE IS on to see who will succeed Boris Johnson as leader of the Conservatives and Prime Minister, with eight candidates setting up their stall ahead of several rounds of voting.

Among the issues being addressed by candidates is the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which was tabled by the Tory government last month and is currently being debated at Committee stage within the House of Commons.

The legislation cleared its first hurdle in late June, despite some opposition on the Tory bench from senior figures like former Prime Minister Theresa May, who criticised the bill as breaking international law.

The legislation itself would unilaterally scrap large parts of the Protocol, including the need for checks on goods crossing between Britain and Northern Ireland.

It would also give UK Government ministers the power to change almost every aspect of the Protocol text.

With this in mind, what are the current crop of Tory leadership candidates planning on doing with the legislation?

Rishi Sunak

Current frontrunner and former Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been quiet on the Northern Ireland Protocol bill since he launched his leadership campaign last week.

He hasn’t made a formal declaration on his plans around the bill, however a source close to Sunak confirmed to the Financial Times that he would back the bill.

“Rishi would let the bill go through, but there would be a different tone,” said the ally, while Sunak’s spokesperson refused to comment.

Liz Truss

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who originally brought forward the legislation, has called it  “legal and necessary”.

At the time, Truss said that the British Government would seek a renegotiation of the protocol with the EU, saying that a solution could be reached.

“There is a solution to be achieved. We have laid it out very clearly with our proposal, but we do need the EU to agree to change the text of the protocol,” she said.

“That is the fundamental issue that needs to be addressed.”

Suella Braverman

Suella Braverman, the Attorney General and an arch-Brexiteer, has come out and called for the Protocol to be scrapped entirely and remove all EU rules from Northern Ireland.

In a tweet, Braverman said that if she was Prime Minister, the EU “would have no more say over taxes in Northern Ireland and I would stop the flow of dynamic EU law into the Province”.

“The Northern Ireland Protocol isn’t working and the legislation designed to tackle it needs to be improved,” said Braverman.

Tom Tugendhat

Tom Tugendhat, a Tory backbencher who is vying for the top job, has said that he will continue to back the legislation, but that he would use it as leverage for negotiations with the EU.

Speaking to Sky News, Tugendhat said that he wanted to see a clean start between the UK Government, Irish Government and the EU.

“What you need is you need to have the leverage and you need to have the trust,” said Tugendhat

“The Northern Ireland bill delivers leverage but that’s not enough, you need a clean start in order to get the trust.”

However, Tugendhat was absent for the vote on the Protocol bill in late June.

Jeremy Hunt

Hunt has said that he will support the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill if he wins the leadership contest, adding that he had voted for it while it was before the Commons.

He said that he hopes with Johnson set to leave No 10 Downing Street, the relationship with the EU could be repaired and Protocol negotiations could be reopened.

“I think we have to be very clear with the EU that no British prime minister could allow a situation where we don’t have an internal market, where businesses from England can export freely to businesses in Northern Ireland,” Hunt told LBC Radio.

Penny Mordaunt

Penny Mordaunt, who is seen as one of the top contenders in the leadership race, has not yet publicly commented on the Protocol Bill since throwing her hat into the ring.

One of her supporters, James Sunderland, has said that she plans to play “hardball” with the EU on the Protocol.

Speaking on BBC’s Newsnight, Sunderland said that Mordaunt is a firm Brexiteer and that she would go “head-to-head” with the EU if needed.

“If the European Union doesn’t want to meet us at the table, doesn’t want to give us those concessions that we need, Penny will be prepared in my view to go hardball with them,” said Sunderland.”

“It is very important that we work with the European Union, Penny is happy to do that, but by the same token we’ve got harder measures if we need to.”

Mordaunt was absent for the vote on the bill in June.

Nadhim Zahawi

New Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi told LBC Radio that he would use the Protocol Bill as leverage for negotiations with the EU, adding that he was one of the “few candidates that has negotiated with the EU commission”.

He said that with former Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis as his campaign chairman, he would deliver the Bill and use it to leverage the EU into new negotiations with the incoming UK Government.

“It’s only when they realise that we have leverage do they actually take the negotiations seriously,” said Zahawi.

He voted with the Government to progress the bill last month.

Kemi Badenoch

Kemi Badenoch has not yet issued any statements on the Protocol Bill, but had voted for it during its second reading in late June, allowing it to pass to Committee Stage.

Currently, Tory MPs are voting in multiple rounds to whittle down the number of candidates. This afternoon, to progress to the next round, candidates will need to secure the backing of 20 MPs or will be eliminated.

Following that, they will need to secure 30 votes to get through the second round, with all subsequent rounds having the candidate with the least votes eliminated until just two candidates remain.

Results of the first round are expected later this evening.

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