Boris Johnson has said Rishi Sunak’s attempts to renegotiate Brexit arrangements in Northern Ireland may create additional problems rather than solve them.
Speaking exclusively to Sky’s Mark Austin on the eve of the first anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine, the former prime minister refused to say he would back any deal negotiated by his successor – and questioned Mr Sunak’s entire approach to the issue.
Mr Johnson insisted that the “best way forward” is to continue to pass the legislation he introduced to parliament as PM to allow the UK to unilaterally tear up parts of the Brexit deal rather than negotiating with Brussels.
Mr Sunak had been expected to junk this Johnson-era law, known as the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, if he secured agreement on a new deal.
It is currently in the House of Lords, where it faces significant opposition from peers, who have put down 90 amendments.
Asked if he would support the deal Mr Sunak is hoping to bring back from Brussels on Northern Ireland, Mr Johnson said: “I think that it’s important that we wait to see what there may be.
“But I think the best way forward is, as I said when I was running the government, is the Northern Ireland bill, which, you know, cleared the Commons very comfortably, I think unamended, when I was in office only a few months ago. So I think that’s the best way forwards.”
Analysis: Sunak has kept his Brexit talks trump card under wraps – but will he ever get to play it?
Cabinet minister refuses to confirm if MPs will get a vote on NI Protocol deal
What is the Northern Ireland Protocol and why does it matter?
This comes at a delicate moment for Mr Sunak, as he must decide whether to press ahead with the deal he has negotiated with Brussels in the face of opposition from the unionist DUP and Tory Brexiteers, junk it or renegotiate the terms further.
All Tory MPs are required to be in the Commons on Monday next week, prompting speculation that the deal could be announced then.
Mr Johnson used his Sky News interview to suggest that his bill would fix key issues that Mr Sunak is trying to deal with by negotiating with Brussels, including returning control of VAT in Northern Ireland from Brussels to Westminster.
Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player
Starmer presses Sunak over NI Protocol
He said: “It’s a very good bill. It fixes all the problems. It solves the problems that we have in the Irish Sea, solves the problems of paperwork, VAT and so on.
“It’s an excellent bill and doesn’t set up any other problems in the economy of the whole island of Ireland. So I’d go with that one.”
Mark Austin also asked Mr Johnson about Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s suggestion that he “loathed” him.
He replied: “I think that it’s very important that politicians get on with each other as far as they possibly can.
“I had a public good relationship with him. And I think that, you know, it’s important to be as civil and friendly as he possibly can.”