Get Brexit done, or go – Boris Johnson’s optionsMon 9:15 pm Europe/London, 13 Jun 2022
And what better way to do that than to “take back control” of those parts of the Withdrawal Agreement that have long been loathed by leavers?
None of them ever liked the deal Boris Johnson managed to renegotiate with the EU, but voted for it fearing that Brexit might be lost completely if they didn’t.
Now there is a chance for “big dog” to right those wrongs – while saving the Good Friday Agreement, the Union and even his divided party in the process, not to mention his own premiership.
The stakes could not be higher, which is why he is under pressure to recapture the bulldog spirit that resulted in him winning the Conservatives’ biggest mandate in 40 years three years ago.
He can neither roll over and have his belly tickled by Brussels like his predecessor Theresa May did, nor continue his current puppy-like penchant for producing policies that earn him a pat on the head. Only dogged determination will do.
As Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former party leader, put it: “He needs to be clear and resolute. He needs to say to the party, everything is at stake here: the Good Friday Agreement, the Union and the party. What’s being proposed isn’t radical – it’s a compromise that all sides can agree. We have no choice but to unite on this.”
And that doesn’t just mean winning over dissenting remainers, but members of his own Cabinet and even Brexiteers.
The European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tories remains a formidable caucus of around 70 MPs who Mr Johnson must keep onside if he is to survive to fight the next general election in 2024.
Yet even they aren’t entirely sold on the Government’s plan, with Mark Francois, the ERG chairman, telling the Telegraph’s Chopper’s Politics Newsletter: “The devil is often in the detail.”
Hence the reconvening of the “Star Chamber” of expert lawyers, chaired as before by Sir Bill Cash MP and including other eminent legal brains, such as Martin Howe QC and Barney Reynolds, to go through the detail with a fine tooth comb.
They are going to have to be convinced that the proposed legislation is “not only legally sound but fully restores the sovereignty of UK law in Northern Ireland, as an integral part of the United Kingdom”, to support it.
That perhaps explains why there have been 12 versions of the Bill before the one that has been put forward. Downing Street knows it has very little room for error right now.
As ever, Mr Johnson is also going to have to placate his party’s Europhile wing – not least after a dossier was circulated warning that this could be the party’s “Iraq” that risks “damaging the UK and everything the Conservatives stand for”.
Dealing decisively with such dissent is only going to strengthen Mr Johnson’s position as he continues to fight for his political life, post-partygate.
With two by-elections on June 23 set to test Tory support to the limit, this week’s sense of deja vu is not inconvenient for Number 10, as it fights to win back the support of disillusioned “red wallers”.
The ink has barely dried on the Bill and already, we’ve had the EU threatening to trigger a trade war – as all the usual suspects line up to declare that the legislation breaches international law.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats have opposed it, Lord Clarke – the former Tory chancellor – has vowed to block the Bill in the Lords, and remainiac lawyers are preparing to challenge it in the courts.
Little wonder, then, that it feels like history is repeating itself. If voters start to suspect that the attempted ousting of Mr Johnson may be part of a wider plot to reverse the referendum result, then he can turn that to his advantage.
If the Prime Minister can once again “get Brexit done”, against all adversity, he may yet get out of the Tory dog house.