Boris Johnson skeptical about Rishi Sunak's new Brexit deal

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Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during the Global Soft Power Summit, at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in London, Thursday March 2, 2023. Johnson on Thursday poured cold water on current premier Rishi Sunaks new Brexit deal with the European Union, saying he would find it hard to vote for it in Parliament. (Jonathan Brady/PA via AP)

LONDON – Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday poured cold water on current premier Rishi Sunak’s new Brexit deal with the European Union, saying he would “find it hard” to vote for it in Parliament.

Johnson said he hoped Sunak’s deal would work, but argued that that it did not amount to “the U.K. taking back control” — a key Brexit slogan.

The government has been bracing for a response from Johnson, a strong backer of Brexit who was ousted from office by ethics scandals in July 2022. Johnson is widely believed to hope for a political comeback, and blames Conservative colleagues including Sunak for bringing him down.

Johnson left office with an unresolved dispute between the U.K. and the bloc over trade rules for Northern Ireland, the only part of the U.K. that shares a border with an EU member nation.

Under Sunak, the two sides struck a deal, which was announced on Monday. The “Windsor Framework” agreement will ease customs checks and other hurdles for goods moving to Northern Ireland from the rest of the U.K. that were imposed after Brexit to maintain an open border between the north and its EU neighbor the Republic of Ireland. The open border is a key pillar of Northern Ireland’s peace process.

But Northern Ireland’s British unionist politicians have yet to give it their blessing. They worry that accepting any aspect of EU trade rules will undermine Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom.

Sunak has also said U.K. lawmakers will get to vote on the deal, but he has not said when.

“This is not about the U.K. taking back control,” Johnson said during a speech in London, referring to the fact that some EU rules will still apply in Northern Ireland. “This is the EU graciously unbending to allow us to do what we want to do in our own country, not by our laws, but by theirs.

“I’m going to find it very difficult to vote for something like this myself, because I believed we should’ve done something very different," Johnson said.

The U.K. government's Northern Ireland secretary, Chris Heaton-Harris, asserted that the deal meant that the U.K. was “decisively taking back control in a host of areas from Brussels.”

“It ensures unfettered access for Northern Ireland-made goods to the whole U.K. market,” he said, and also gives Northern Ireland's elected politicians “the opportunity to reject the application of any harmful new EU rules in the few areas in which they remain.”

“We have never said this is the perfect solution," he added — but insisted it was better than options proposed during Johnson's time in office.