DAN HODGES: Boris doesn't believe Brexit is done so why should anyone

DAN HODGES: Boris doesn't believe Brexit is done so why should anyone

DAN HODGES: If even Boris doesn’t now believe the Tories have ‘got Brexit done’, why should anyone else?

Boris Johnson is back. Not that he ever really went away. Downing Street was hoping the slick spin surrounding Rishi Sunak’s self-styled ‘decisive breakthrough’ on the Northern Ireland Protocol would cow their would-be nemesis into silence.

No such luck. ‘I just want to point out purely for accuracy, when I stepped down we were only a handful of points behind the Labour Party,’ he said in an early unsubtle swipe at his successor.

There had been reports Johnson would use today’s speech to ‘tear apart’ the Prime Minister’s deal. But in the end he simply subjected it to some forensic unspinning.

He had ‘mixed feelings’ about the new agreement, he said. He understood political momentum was behind it. But as currently constituted he would fine it ‘difficult to vote for it’.

In the next few days Johnson’s opponents will paint his intervention as a toxic combination of sour grapes and Machiavellian manoeuvring.

During today’s speech Boris Johnson said that it will be ‘very difficult’ for him to vote for the agreement reached with the European Union on post-Brexit provisions affecting Northern Ireland

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s deal has enjoyed widespread support after he delivered a statement at the House of Commons this week

Boris’s general election campaign was partly founded on  his promise to ‘Get Brexit Done’, as shown off on his gloves on the campaign trail in 2019

Bitter that Rishi has secured concessions that remained tantalisingly out of the former Prime Minister’s grasp, they will frame his speech as a crude attempt to undermine Sunak and pave the way for a dramatic comeback. And there will be some truth in that. Boris Johnson never does anything without an eye to what is in the best interests of Boris Johnson.

But his critique has validity. It’s correct that without the Sword of Damacles of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill hanging over them, it’s unlikely EU officials would have been as willing to move as far as they have in accommodating the UK.

He was also correct to identify that it was the EU – not UK grandstanding – that created unnecessary tensions within Northern Ireland. Angela Merkel had reportedly told him his stance risked precipitating ‘a Shakespearean tragedy’.

But the fact that the EU have agreed to dismantle such a significant proportion of the bureaucracy monitoring trade across the Irish Sea demonstrates that their claim that it was vital to protect the integrity of the single-market was always just hot air.

And he was equally right to point out that – despite the Prime Minister’s jubilant words – elements of that bureaucracy remain. For Unionists struggling to secure the consent of their community for the new agreement, the fact that trading forms now require 20 data entry points rather than 80 may not represent the negotiating triumph that was projected in the House of Commons on Monday.

Earlier in the week some had claimed Rishi Sunak’s deal represented the end for Boris Johnson’s political ambitions. It’s true that he has been forced into something of a retreat. Today’s was not the speech of a man preparing to take sceptical Tory Brexiteers over the top in a dramatic and glorious charge against his own Government.

But those who think any hopes of Johnson returning to No 10 have been extinguished are wrong. Tory MPs were never looking to him to be the man who would transform their political fortunes through skilful renegotiation of arcane treaties. And they will have detected flashes of the old Boris humour and magic sprinkled throughout his address.

Boris has also exposed flaws in Rishi Sunak’s operation. A number of Tory MPs are becoming concerned that the deal has been overspun and that No 10 hasn’t been honest about the concessions contained in the small print of the agreement.

Boris Johnson criticised Rishi Sunak’s Northern Ireland deal, saying that it was ‘not about the UK taking back control’ and that it would act as a ‘drag anchor on divergence’ 

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen shake hands during a joint press conference following their meeting at the Fairmont Hotel in Windsor this week, declaring a ‘new chapter’ 

Northern Ireland Minister Steve Baker revealed that he suffered a ‘major mental health crisis’ including anxiety and depression due to the stress of Brexit

Boris Johnson also said during his speech: ‘I think it very, very unlikely that I will need to do anything big in politics again’ 

They also feel there has been an attempt to rail-road them into backing it. One potential rebel who spoke to the Prime Minister after the announcement of the deal told me ‘the trouble is he’s talking to people about this like they’re eight-year-olds. It’s so patronising’.

But the biggest problem isn’t that Prime Minister is talking to his own MPs as if they’re children. It’s the way the entire Tory Party is now talking to the voters as if they’re children.

The most significant phrase in Johnson’s criticism of the deal was the following. ‘It’s not about taking back control,’ he said.

But he, and his colleagues, have spent the last three years telling the British people precisely the opposite. We were told repeatedly that we had indeed taken back control.

We were told the final agreement with the EU was ‘oven ready’. We were told that, after all the years of wrangling, the Government had finally ‘got Brexit done’.

Now the voters are being informed – not by some arch Remainer, but by Boris Johnson, the granddaddy of Brexit himself – that’s no longer true. That there is still an EU ‘drag anchor’ weighing down Britain.

That the dream of Singapore on Sea is being stifled. That we are still having to, in Boris’s own words, appeal to the EU to graciously allow us to do what we want in our own country.

And that is the true significance of today’s speech. If even Boris Johnson doesn’t now believe the Tories have got Brexit done, why should anyone else.

Source: Read Full Article