Boris facing Tory rebellion after handing EU ‘whip hand’ over UK ‘the sands are shifting’

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Ben Habib, chairman of Brexit Watch, warned last year’s divorce deal allows the European Union to influence British decision-making even if negotiators manage to secure a free-trade agreement. He claimed Boris Johnson’s pact with the bloc has handed Brussels the “whip hand” in the wrangling over the future relationship. And the Prime Minister now faces the prospect of a Brexiteer rebellion within the Conservative Party if the Withdrawal Agreement remains intact.

Mr Habib said EU chiefs would maintain their influence over Britain because of the controversial Northern Ireland protocol.

He said: “The Prime Minister has every incentive to sign up to the terms of the Political Declaration, which aligns us to the EU’s level playing field, gives them fixed fishing quotas and the ECJ a special position.

“We’re reasonably incentivised to do that because it’s the only way of getting a deal and hiding the effects of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“If we leave without an agreement, the effects of the Northern Ireland Protocol are much clearer – and it’s something we must be very worried that Northern Ireland is left behind.”

Under the terms of Irish border fix, Mr Johnson agreed that the province would leave the customs union but maintain EU single market rules.

Mr Habib argued the only way to limit the visual impacts of the Northern Ireland Protocol is to agree to the bloc’s demands in the trade talks.

He said: “A fundamental promise Boris Johnson made in the manifesto is that the entire United Kingdom would leave the EU as a whole.

“The only way he can really honour that now is to breach the other Brexit promises he made, which is to have no political alignment, no ECJ jurisdiction and take back control of fisheries.

“He put himself in a real bind when he signed the Withdrawal Agreement and that has given the EU the whip hand in the negotiations over the future relationship.”

Mr Habib claimed any future trade deal between the UK and EU would likely spark an internal row within the Tory party.

The Brexit Watch chairman said a number of prominent Brexiteer MPs, including Iain Duncan Smith and Steve Baker, have already shown signs of being prepared to rebel against the Prime Minister’s leadership.

Mr Habib said: “The sands are definitely shifting against the Prime Minister.

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“The sands are definitely shifting against the Prime Minister,” Mr Habib said.

“I think the Tory party is very, very happy to knife people when they feel it’s appropriate, and the sands are definitely shifting.

“I don’t think they’ll shift until after Brexit and COVID-19 is behind us because anyone stepping into that position would be picking up one hell of a poison chalice, and I think Boris Johnson will be held in position until those two things are behind us.”

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Post-Brexit trade talks are expected to resume this weekend in London after both sides failed to break the deadlock.

Lord Frost, the Prime Minister’s chief negotiator, and EU counterpart Michel Barnier have made progress on a joint legal text putting pen to paper on the deal.

But they’ve failed to find a solution on they key sticking points – access to Britain’s fishing grounds, future common standards, including state aid, and policing the final agreement.

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