Did the ultra-tough message from No10’s Dominic Cummings push Irish PM to move on Brexit?

The Sun Opinions 1 week ago

AFTER weeks of clinging to the ropes, Boris Johnson’s talks with his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar have produced a miracle.

The European Union can now see a route to a Brexit deal, perhaps within the October 31 deadline.

Boris Johnson’s de facto chief of staff Dominic Cummings[/caption]

Boris Johnson’s talks with his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar have produced a miracle[/caption]

How times change. It wasn’t so long ago the EU ruled out EVER re-opening the negotiations and Britain was hurtling towards a No Deal crash. What made the difference? Could it be that our friends in Brussels were riled at the idea of Boris fighting an election while blaming them for Britain not getting out on time?

Things started to change on Tuesday when a No10 source briefed details of a call between the PM and Germany’s Angela Merkel. The insider’s memo said their conversation made it clear a deal was “overwhelmingly unlikely”.

Bearing all the hallmarks of Boris Johnson’s de facto chief of staff Dominic Cummings, it was texted to James Forsyth, Sun columnist and Political Editor of The Spectator. In chilling tones, it raised fears Boris was heading flat out for No Deal.

It threatened: “Supporting delay will be seen by this Government as hostile interference in domestic politics. Any delay will be negotiated between you, Parliament and the courts. We will focus on winning the election on a manifesto of immediately revoking the entire EU legal order without further talks, and then we will leave.”

Feathers were ruffled across the Channel — yet within two days Boris and Irish Taoiseach Varadkar agreed to meet then said they could “see a pathway” to Brexit deal. EU Council President Donald Tusk had earlier made clear his anger at the original briefing, tweeting at the PM: “What’s at stake is not winning some stupid blame game.”

Outrage aside, Tusk is a seasoned politician and is wise enough to know a general election is coming. Even if he asked for a humiliating extension, Boris could come back with a majority and a strengthened mandate to take the country to No Deal if necessary.

REASON TO PAUSE

It would have given the EU a reason to pause. Did they really want to take such a big risk and damage relations with the UK, especially if Boris was going to return with No Deal in his manifesto? Boris has blustered his way through the critics, promising to “get Brexit done” despite the odds lengthening every day.

At times it has all looked a bit desperate. But the UK doesn’t hold all the cards. To get a deal through, Boris needs the Irish government to compromise too. Varadkar’s stubbornness was a sticking point. Ireland’s leader, like everyone else, knows Theresa May’s deal was not supported in Parliament.

Showing no signs of movement on the issue would make the Irish just as culpable of creating a hard border as those in Westminster. This hardline briefing is not how any of us want to deal with our friends and allies in Europe. But the brinkmanship looks like it has produced results.

We are not out of the woods by any means. At this moment, we are still not clear on any details of the new proposals. So you can see why No10 kept up the pressure on No Deal, why Chancellor Sajid Javid committed to spending more than £2billion to get the Government ready to go and why Michael Gove is working on plans to put all that spending in place.

For all the worry about No Deal, keeping it on the table was a necessary step to strengthen our position. Claims the Government was looking for a legal loophole to remove the obstacles now appear fanciful.

But the EU would have taken note and would have worried about stubbornly sticking to its position if the threat of No Deal suddenly reappeared. If we are serious about a deal, No10 should end the hardline rhetoric. The EU will not make this easy. And why should they? But their cautious welcome of the breakthrough with Ireland means we have reasons to be cheerful.

Now is the time for cool heads and for Boris to engage in a statesmanlike way. He needs to get to grips with the detail of exactly how we can make an alternative to the backstop work. Sadly, that’s not even the hard part.

Any deal will need to come back to Parliament, where tribal loyalties, political positioning and genuine anger have intensified in recent months. There is almost no chance opposition parties will back anything that comes back from Brussels.

BATED BREATH

So the only way to deliver Brexit is to bring together the fractious parts of the Conservative Party, the breakaway Tory rebel MPs and the hardcore Brexit “Spartans”.

There is hope this can be done. The rebels will want to avoid a No Deal exit, which any deal would prevent, and the Spartans have started to see that leaving in an orderly way may be the only chance they have to get us out.

The alternative could be more months of delay, ending in a second referendum. None of which they could possibly want. And there is one other group to win over, the dangerously difficult DUP.

They are critical to parliamentary success. So far, they have stayed tight-lipped about the latest developments, only reiterating their original position of leaving with the rest of the UK.

The whole of Europe will be waiting with bated breath for their reaction to the new proposals. Leaving on time, with a deal, is the best way for Boris to win an election.

He needs to get Brexit done so he can start repairing the damage getting us here has created. There are 72 hours until the next EU meeting, when the fate of the country will be decided. Let’s make them count.




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