Downing Street has been accused of rigging Parliament to push through Rishi Sunak’s Brexit deal after five Tories who threatened to vote against him were ‘purged’ from a committee.
MPs were removed from office at the last minute after raising concerns with government whips over the introduction of new checks on parcels traveling from Britain to Northern Ireland.
Their expulsion sparked an outcry among Eurosceptic backbenchers who accused Number 10 of acting like North Korea in a bid to coerce the Windsor frame.
Mr Sunak’s deal will see bureaucracy imposed on parcels sent across the Irish Sea for the first time since Britain left the bloc three years ago.
Industry leaders have warned that the rules will result in additional costs for businesses and lead many people to simply decide to stop supplying Northern Irish customers.
Five eurosceptic Tories – Sir James Duddridge, Adam Afriyie, Nick Fletcher, Marco Longhi and Danny Kruger – have been appointed to the scrutiny committee.
However, all were unceremoniously dumped just hours before the scheduled meeting after expressing concerns to the whips about the changes.
The government parachuted in last-minute replacements, including Bim Afolami, Nickie Aiken, Siobhan Baillie and Amanda Milling, all of whom voted to Remain.
Sir James said the whips pressured him to step down when he indicated he could vote against the measures which ‘drive a coach and horses through Brexit’.
He described the decision as an “outrage” and added: “I was asked if I would like to be replaced? I said no’. I was asked if I would like to take a week off? I said no’.
“I then found out this morning that I had been substituted because they thought it could take up to 90 minutes and it might be inconvenient for me.”
Angry eurosceptics lined up to condemn the government over the decision at a tumultuous committee meeting on Monday night.
Mark Francois, the chairman of the European Research Group, called the decision “shameful” and the process by which MPs were replaced as “bent”.
“It manipulates the parliamentary process because the Windsor framework is such a failure that whips have to rig committees to get it passed,” he said.
“It’s the government trying to get rid of people they thought had the moral courage to vote the wrong way. It’s twisted, that’s what they did.
Sammy Wilson, a DUP MP who sat on the committee, said his Tory colleagues had been “purged” and “harassed from their posts” by No 10.
He added: “One can only conclude that the actions taken by the government would make the North Korean leader blush for the lack of democratic process.”
Sir Bill Cash, a 40-year-old veteran eurosceptic, said he “resented deeply” for the decision, adding: “I’ve never seen anything like it and I think it’s outrageous”.
Ministers are trying to write key elements of the deal, which replaced the controversial protocol, into UK law through a series of statutory instruments (SIs).
SIs are used to pass non-controversial updates to existing legislation without monopolizing parliamentary time with full House debate and voting.
Parcel checks were supposed to be introduced as part of the original protocol agreement, but never came into force and in September 2021 ministers announced they were suspended indefinitely.
Business leaders have warned that the new rules in the Windsor Framework will wrap businesses and delivery companies in red tape, increasing costs and reducing choice for people in Northern Ireland.
The Road Haulage Association said they would result in the province being treated ‘as if it were a foreign country’ and ‘dividing the UK into two distinct and separate areas’.
“The impact of these proposed regulations is to add barriers, bureaucracy and additional costs to the movement of everyday goods that consumers and businesses depend on, restricting trade, increasing costs and causing a trade divergence,” he said.
“This … certainly restricts and impedes trade between GB and NI and will result in trade diversion and reduced market access for NI consumers and businesses.”
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