Sunak’s Brexit deal could spell the end of Boris’ leadership hopes

Rishi Sunak discusses NI agreement in Parliament

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In contrast Boris Johnson, who had seen the potential fury over an EU compromise as a route back to Downing Street, was noticeably absent. On a day of such high drama that Shakespeare would have blushed, it was easy to see who the winners and losers were.

(Please note that this column comes with a health warning that winners and losers could be reversed in true Brexit style by the weekend).

Winner: Rishi Sunak

The reaction of Tory MPs was not just fabricated. It was clear from the reaction of many of them – both privately and publicly – that they wanted Sunak to have a win.

Even his critics accepted he had got far more from the EU than could have been expected (yes that’s what Jacob Rees-Mogg said).

The fact is that with enemies circling, mutterings about the polls, Sunak has strengthened his grip on the party and proven himself as a negotiator.

If he gets through the week he will have pulled off a remarkable political feat.

He is certainly not out of the woods yet with a contentious Budget and tricky local elections coming up, but this was a good day.

Loser: Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson’s absence – “Where is he?” shouted Labour MPs – said a lot about not wanting to be at the scene of the crime or victory (depending on your viewpoint).

He had to avoid either welcoming or rejecting the Windsor Framework and to give it time to see whether it will still bear scrutiny over the weekend.

But it could not be avoided that his original protocol agreement was the problem and many were quick to point this out.

What is clear, though, is that his hopes of using this particular controversy to return as Prime Minister have largely closed.

Winner: The DUP

While they have not declared support or otherwise for what was unveiled today, the DUP has without doubt through the party’s resilience shown that the EU can be forced to shift.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s decision not to leap to a quick decision has made him look statesman-like and reasonable.

He may have a tricky time ahead given that his party does not want to be in second place to Sinn Fein in a reconvened Stormont.

But today, the DUP defied the unfair stereotype of intransigent hotheads and appeared reasonable and measured.

Loser: King Charles III

If one thing left a bad taste in the mouth, it was the decision by the government to politicise the Crown.

The Monarch is supposed to rise above politics and not get involved in the minutae of contentious deals.

There is no doubt the government thought the King’s involvement would persuade some Unionists – but it was a miscalculation and one which has tarnished His Majesty ahead of his Coronation just months away.

The late Queen would probably not have allowed the talks to take place at Windsor Castle and may well have avoided a meeting with Ursula von der Leyen.

Winner: Joe Biden

Joe Biden’s hopes of coming to Northern Ireland for a glorious 25th anniversary celebration of the Good Friday Agreement came a step closer.

It is one of those legacy issues that he will want to mark his Presidency.

He can also claim – perhaps spuriously – that the pressure his administration brought on the talks was partly behind the agreement unveiled today.

Loser: Labour

Labour tried to place a clever game by trying to split the Conservatives in the hope that Rishi Sunak would have to rely on their votes.

So far, there is no real sign of this happening and suddenly a beleaguered Prime Minister with no mandate is looking more like an international statesman.

There is a potential that this could start a Conservative renaissance in the polls, but there is quite a wait before this can materialise.

But, as things stand, Sunak is looking at a rebellion of around 20 Tory MPs maximum and Labour is looking like the supporting cast.

Winner: Nigel Farage

If Nigel Farage wants to make a return to front line politics he can now begin to see a way forward.

There is clear blue water between what he and Reform UK offer and what the Conservatives do.

Farage can leave voters in no doubt who the only pure Brexiteers are after today – and it is not the Conservatives.

Added to this, his views on tax cutting are like to run counter to what the Sunak Budget is set to deliver.

Loser: The EU

For those who think the Brussels machine is immovable and indomitable today proved that it is not and the UK’s future does not – as Rejoiners would have it – involve constant capitulation.

While the Windsor Framework is not perfect, it saw Mr Sunak get massive concessions from the EU in areas such as checks on goods and the ability to override EU law which had been unimaginable.

The lengthy process has proven that trying to be reasonable with the EU does not work – one of the fatal mistakes of the Theresa May years which led to this crisis.

Instead, as a Foreign Office source confirmed with, taking a tough stance, introducing the possibility of unilateral action with the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill “changed minds in Brussels quite dramatically”.

To be decided: The ERG

The European Research Group (ERG) of Tory Brexiteer MPs has mainly got what it wanted over the last few years, although it has taken a lot of effort.

Aligned with the DUP its members have led the way in Parliament on attacking the Protocol and warning it was a Trojan House for the EU to retain control over the UK.

It’s clear that measures suggested by its veteran member and leader of its star chamber of lawyers Sir William Cash have been adopted.

But it is also not clear whether this deal is enough. There is a good chance that it is the ERG which ends up splitting.

So, whether it is a winner or loser remains uncertain.

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