Brexit hardliners are lining up, ready to attack Rishi Sunak’s compromise on the contentious Northern Ireland Protocol as a sell-out to Brussels. Over the weekend, a deal was finalised in an attempt to fudge the situation, reducing checks on goods and limiting the reach of the ECJ a little, maybe.

Sunak faces the threat of rebellion from members of the European Research Group, MPs hostile to Brussels.

This is the febrile backdrop for plotting by allies of the former Prime Minister Boris Johnson. They hope to restore him to high office, although it is never explained how Johnson is going to form a government when the last administration he oversaw collapsed. Minister after minister resigned as he was engulfed by assorted self-inflicted idiocies and scandals.

Lord Cruddas, a former Tory donor, has established a grassroots group demanding democracy in the party and more power for members. On Twitter he rails against “Boris bashers” and celebrates the deselection of any MPs who moved against Johnson. Boundary changes mean MPs are scrapping over seats as some constituencies disappear.

David Campbell Bannerman, a former MEP and now a close ally of Cruddas, revealed the next line of attack. Sunak is selling out to Brussels apparently, by failing to get the complete removal of the Protocol agreed. He tweeted:

“The core of the problem with the coming expected NI Protocol deal is that EU law remains in place; even for Green Lanes; and we would still have ultimate control over NI by a foreign court with the ECJ. The technical ‘fixes’ are welcome. But can any true Unionist sign up to this?”

Any true Unionist? It was Johnson who negotiated and signed the Protocol, for goodness sake. It is his Protocol, part of what he called his “oven ready” deal. When asked by Northern Ireland businesses if it would mean paperwork and checks on the Irish sea border he denied it, firmly but not plausibly.

Rishi Sunak has been trying to fix the poor deal Johnson negotiated on Northern Ireland. For Johnson supporters now to pose as Unionists, attacking Sunak for trying to improve Johnson’s deal, to minimise disruption to business, is quite the cheek.

Other strange reports have emerged that provide a glimpse of the pro-Johnson plotting. An analysis by Andrew Pierce in the Daily Mail over the weekend – “Many of the 60 or so MPs who knifed Boris are feeling the heat” – went through the card, suggesting the membership is rallying to Johnson and deselecting “Boris bashers.” The selection troubles faced by hardest of hard Brexiteers Suella Braverman, Boris fan and in theory the Home Secretary, received less attention, suggesting the picture is more complicated.

Still, there is much more of this to come as the Boris backers get ready to make their move.

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