Senior Conservative Brexiteers are preparing to reconvene a panel of lawyers to scrutinise the UK-EU trade deal that Boris Johnson is expected to announce on Thursday.
The European Research Group (ERG) of hardline pro-Leave Tory MPs said on Wednesday night that it would reassemble the “Star Chamber” that reviewed Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement last year.
Sir Bill Cash, 80, will resume the chairmanship of the panel of legal experts. The views of the qualified solicitor, the MP for Stone, in Staffordshire, are held in high esteem by his ERG colleagues, with some privately warning that Mr Johnson’s agreement must pass the “Bill Cash test” if they are to back it.
The ERG urged the Prime Minister to publish the legal text of the agreement “as soon as possible” once it is announced. At present, talks between Lord Frost, Mr Johnson’s chief negotiator, and Michel Barnier, his EU counterpart, are continuing as they thrash out the final details of a pact.
Government insiders said that while a last-minute hiccup was possible, they were optimistic that a deal was imminent.
In a joint statement on Wednesday night, Mark Francois, the chairman of the ERG, and David Jones, the deputy chairman, acknowledged that the deal would be “highly complex”. The legal text is expected to run to 2,000 pages.
They said: “The Star Chamber will scrutinise it in detail, to ensure that its provisions genuinely protect the sovereignty of the United Kingdom, after we exit the Transition Period at the end of this year.
“It is intended that the Star Chamber, which will include some amended members as some previous participants now serve in Government, will undertake its examination as expeditiously as possible, before providing its conclusions on the merits of the deal, which we will aim to make public before Parliament reconvenes.”
Tory MP John Redwood, another veteran Eurosceptic, ratcheted up pressure on Mr Johnson over the deal on Thursday morning, warning on Twitter: “Any UK/EU Agreement must put us in full control of our laws, and needs an exit clause we can use without EU permission.”
MPs are expected to be recalled on December 30 to fast-track legislation underpinning the deal. Ministers have drawn up plans for the Bill to pass through the Commons and the Lords, and achieve Royal Assent, at breakneck speed in a single day.
There are now just seven days to go until the UK leaves the Single Market at 11pm on December 31, leaving little room for critics to raise objections to a deal before it is due to come into force.
It is understood that Sir Keir Starmer is preparing to urge his shadow Cabinet to back the deal on Thursday in a move that would provide added reassurance to Downing Street that it will pass through the Commons without struggle.
The Brexiteers’ “Star Chamber” was named after the court that sat in the Old Palace of Westminster between the 15th and 17th centuries. Composed of judges and privy councillors, it grew out of the medieval King’s Council as an addition to the common-law courts.
The twenty-first century “Star Chamber” which convened last March to pore over Mrs May’s withdrawal deal was made up of eight MPs from across the Conservatives and Democratic Unionist Party, including Dominic Raab, now the Foreign Secretary, and Suella Braverman, now the Attorney General.
Sir Bill delivered a blow to Mrs May when, after scrutinising the legal meaning of her deal, he concluded that he could not support it. The panel also questioned her right to delay the UK’s planned exit from the EU beyond the original departure date of March 29.