Tory Brexiteer MP first to break ranks and trash Boris Johnson’s deal in explosive letter

Mr Johnson’s proposals would involve Northern Ireland leaving the EU’s customs union, but staying in the single market for goods pending the negotiation of a new Free Trade Agreement. In effect it could involve the UK collecting tariffs on behalf of the EU. A delegation led by European Research Group (ERG) chairman Steve Baker visited Number 10 yesterday to discuss the situation with Mr Johnson, with Mr Baker indicating afterwards he would be willing to support the proposals unveiled last week.

However, former Northern Ireland secretary Mr Paterson, also a member of the hardline Eurosceptic group, writing on the Conservative Home website, hinted a possible split.

He said: “It is encouraging that the Prime Minister’s talks last week with Leo Varadkar appeared positive.

Nevertheless, concerned remained about the risk of the EU trying to “trap Northern Ireland permanently” in the EU Customs Union “reheating” the idea of a “customs partnership” or “single customs territory” included in Mrs May’s deal.

Mr Paterson, who is MP for North Shropshire, added: “As the Prime Minister has said repeatedly, the May Withdrawal Agreement is dead.

“It was defeated in Parliament three times and the Conservatives, the only Party supporting it in the European elections, got just 8.8 per cent of the vote and came fifth.

“We await the full details of the new deal to see exactly how they address the objections to the dead Theresa May ‘deal’ but dual-tariff systems like this would be, as Priti Patel has said, ‘unacceptable’.”

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Questioning whether any other country would agree to give up part its territory as party of trade talks, Mr Paterson added: “It would be particularly absurd for Northern Ireland. 85 per cent of sales by Northern Irish companies are in the UK.

“Just five per cent are with the Republic and around three per cent with the rest of the EU.

“How could we saddle Northern Ireland with EU costs and regulations, and shut it out from trade deals which the rest of the UK would strike?

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“It would shatter the Belfast Agreement’s principle of consent and completely undermine Northern Ireland’s status as an integral part of the UK. We must not go down this route.”

Mr Paterson also had strong words for those trying to derail Brexit, saying: “The chicanery of Remainers in the Commons has done enormous damage to public trust in democracy; they have sunk the public standing of Parliament to new lows with the ridiculous ‘Surrender Act’.

“The UK must leave the EU; 17.4 million people – more people than have ever voted for anything in British history – decided that in 2016.”

Mr Paterson reiterated his concerns during an interview with LBC’s Julia Hartley-Brewer this morning.

He said: “I very much welcome the fact that Boris has set out a very clear destination of a wide-ranging free trade agreement, which of course is what was offered by President Donald Tusk way back in March 2018 and that is the obvious destination to get to.

“But where we are in the negotiations none of us know.

“I know no more than you do. Nobody has got any detail.

“But I do think it is really important we don’t just reheat the May deal and make the same mistakes because it will be defeated again.”

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