A TORY rebellion is brewing over changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol – with Labour offering support to the Prime Minister if Conservative Brexiteers refuse to back changes.

The UK Government is in talks with the EU about making changes to the protocol – hated by Unionists in Northern Ireland because it makes the province closer to Brussels than London.

It also created a trade border in the Irish Sea, keeping the nation within the bloc's single market for goods, while the rest of Great Britain is not.  

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And, in protest at the Protocol, the DUP have refused to rejoin the powersharing agreement at Stormont - particularly following Sinn Fein's record win at the 2022 election, where they became the biggest party and should have then elected a First Minister, with a DUP deputy. 

It is understood Sunak’s officials held talks with their Brussels counterparts on Sunday on how to give local politicians a greater say in the application of EU law in the region, addressing what Unionists call the “democratic deficit”.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly will hold crunch talks with Brussels on Monday afternoon to strike a deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol post-Brexit.

The National: Europe minister James Cleverly.

Senior Tories have voiced concerns a new agreement would make concessions to the EU which they and the staunch Brexiteers in the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) considered unacceptable.

Downing Street insisted a “final deal” has not been struck as they seek an agreement that will satisfy the demands of the DUP.

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However, No 10 would not commit to giving MPs a vote on any potential deal as senior Tory Brexiteers stepped up warnings to Sunak not to give too much ground to the EU.

Conservative former minister Simon Clarke backed a call by Boris Johnson for ministers to press on with legislation enabling them to override parts of the protocol.

But the Prime Minister’s official spokesman stressed the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which is currently stalled in the Lords, remains “important” in “the absence of a negotiated solution”.

The spokesman told reporters: “It’s clear that we need to find solutions that protect Northern Ireland’s place in our internal market, safeguard the Good Friday Agreement and resolve the practical issues that the protocol is causing for families and businesses.

“The Prime Minister has been clear that we have not resolved all of those issues and no deal has been done as yet.”

Meanwhile, Home Secretary Suella Braverman described the protocol bill as “one of the biggest tools that we have in solving the problem on the Irish Sea”.

Braverman, a longstanding Eurosceptic, argued, however, that Sunak is right to be “committed to finding a pragmatic solution to resolve these issues”.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said Downing Street will remain “in close contact” with the DUP and other parties, but added: “It would be wrong to say there is a final deal.

“There’s intensive work to do with the EU, that work is ongoing.”

Keir Starmer urged the Prime Minister to give MPs a vote on the deal as he reaffirmed his offer of Labour support to get it through the House of Commons amid signs there could be a rebellion from some wings of the Tory party.

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But Downing Street declined to commit to a vote, with the official spokesman saying: “You will hear more from us should an agreement be reached with the EU that reaches the challenges the Prime Minister has set out.”

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Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to Thurrock in Essex, the Labour leader said: “I think it should be put to a vote, and I’m very clear to the Prime Minister I will put the country first and the party second and he should do the same.”

The veteran Tory Eurosceptic Bernard Jenkin said that any deal which did not lead to a return to power-sharing at the Stormont Assembly by the DUP – which walked out in protest at the protocol – would be “completely disastrous”.

“If it doesn’t get the support of both communities in Northern Ireland it is just going to make things worse because it will cement in place an agreement that has destroyed power sharing in Northern Ireland,” he told Times Radio.

Sammy Wilson, the DUP chief whip at Westminster, accused ministers of going into the negotiations with the EU with “an attitude of defeat” and said that he did not expect to see a deal announced this week.

“If a deal is agreed which still keeps us in the EU single market, as ministers in the Northern Ireland Assembly we would be required by law to implement that deal and we are not going to do that because we believe such an arrangement is designed to take us out of the United Kingdom,” he told Sky News.

“We are British and we expect to be governed by British law, not Brussels law. We would certainly not collaborate in administering Brussels law in our part of the United Kingdom.”

The more measured response of DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson was privately welcomed in Downing Street.

Clarke, the former levelling-up secretary, argued the protocol bill would strengthen the hand of ministers in negotiations and could ultimately provide a better solution than a new deal with the EU.

“It is absolutely imperative tactically to give our negotiators the strongest possible hand to play with Brussels,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“If the perception is there that the bill is moribund then that will, I am afraid, weaken our hand very considerably.

“We need to make sure that if a deal is struck here it is genuinely a better one than that we can achieve through our own legislation to fix the protocol.”

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The Conservative Eurosceptics in the European Research Group who could provide resistance to Sunak’s attempts to pass a new deal will meet for talks on Tuesday.

Johnson’s intervention over the weekend – his first on Brexit since departing No 10 – has raised concerns over a potential rebellion by Eurosceptic Tory backbenchers if the PM’s changes are put to a vote in Westminster.

Some Tories quickly sided with the former prime minister. Lord Frost – who negotiated Johnson’s original Brexit deal – urged the Government to “push on with the protocol bill”.

However Clarke, a strong supporter of both Johnson and his successor Liz Truss, denied he was trying to make trouble for Sunak.

“Quite the opposite. I want to see this issue fixed. It is vital for the Conservative Party,” he said.