Boris Johnson is on collision course with Rishi Sunak over the prime minister’s attempts to reach a deal with Brussels over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The former PM is bitterly opposed to Mr Sunak‘s plans to abandon the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which gives ministers power to rip up parts of the protocol and ignore EU rules.
In a move that could trigger a new Tory civil war on Brexit, a source close to Mr Johnson told Sky News: “His general thinking is that it would be a great mistake to drop the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.”
As Mr Sunak battles to reach a deal over the protocol, senior government sources claimed that if there is a deal, the bill – introduced by Mr Johnson when he was PM – would be redundant.
What is the Northern Ireland Protocol and why does it matter?
“If we can find a way to satisfactorily resolve the issues with the protocol, then you wouldn’t need the bill,” a senior government official said.
“But we haven’t resolved them yet.”
As well as the potential mutiny by the former PM, senior pro-Brexit Conservative MPs are warning of a massive Tory rebellion if Mr Sunak’s deal keeps a role for the European Court of Justice.
Mr Johnson’s legislation, currently in the House of Lords where it is likely to be face amendments by anti-Brexit peers, includes stripping the ECJ of any jurisdiction over Northern Ireland.
Sir James Duddridge, a former Brexit minister and a leading ally of Mr Johnson, told Sky News the number of Tory MPs prepared to rebel could be as many as 100.
“It won’t just be the so-called Spartans,” said Sir James. “There will be a large number of Brexiteers, possibly the majority of the parliamentary party and potentially running into treble figures.”
However, a big Tory rebellion against a deal on the protocol would be unlikely to kill it, since Sir Keir Starmer has let it be known that Labour is prepared to back a deal.
What is the Brexit deal being discussed and will it be backed in Northern Ireland?
Earlier, in Munich, questioned about progress on his talks with EU leaders and Northern Ireland’s political parties on the protocol, Mr Sunak said: “There is still work to do.
“There are still challenges to work through. We have not resolved all these issues.
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“No, there isn’t a deal that has been done, there is an understanding of what needs to be done.
“We’re working through the issues hard and we will work through them intensely with the EU, but we are by no means done.”