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Deal or no deal?: A victory, pulled out of the dustbin of history

By Toby Neal | Politics | Published:

He's done it! Boris Johnson has pulled out Theresa May's deceased parrot from the dustbin of history.

Boris Johnson arrives for a media conference at an EU summit in Brussels

He's dusted it off, extracted its backstop, hastily restuffed it, applied a quick spray of cheap polish to give it a new sheen and, hey presto, it's ready again to attempt to take flight.

Whether it will soar like an eagle, or flop to the floor, we shall learn today.

However, reaching any sort of deal with the EU is a personal triumph for Boris. They all said it could not be done, and now they're all saying that they all said it could not be done but he did it.

So yes, he's pulled it off.

That's version A.

Version B: He has reached a doomed agreement with the EU which will never be accepted by Parliament.

Then there's C: He has avoided a delay to the UK's departure after October 31 and won't have to write that letter that he didn't want to write.

And D: Get ready for an extension, even though Jean-Claude Juncker says there won't be one.

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E: A referendum with Remain on the ballot paper, together with something or other else. Remain supporters don't much care so long as Remain is on it with a big tick box.

F: Insert here any other permutation or possibility you can think of spanning the rest of the alphabet.

Delete whichever of the above does not apply as things unfold.

I am of course hedging my bets because Parliament today, if it indeed sits (there I go again), will determine the course of British history. The last time Parliament sat on a Saturday was when Argentina's murderous fascist junta led by a drunken general invaded the Falkland Islands.

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This is not a war, although back then Labour MPs wanted it all to be sorted out through endless talks, so it's not completely dissimilar.

Let us give credit where credit is due. You can admire Boris for performing a wonderful trick in public, like touching your nose with your elbow, something I suggest you don't try by the way.

Showmanship

If though there are not the numbers in the Commons to support the deal today, then that's all it has been, a wonderful trick, a demonstration something was possible, while ultimately not getting us anywhere.

Theresa May did that months ago, albeit without the smiles and showmanship.

To see the images and read the mood music you can see that one of the biggest lies about politics is that it is about policies and not personalities. The huggy backslapping saluting high fivin' approach of foreign language-speaking Boris created the atmosphere in which reaching a deal in such a short timescale was possible.

And it's amazing what you can get the EU to do at the negotiating table by caving in to them. Oops, I mean by negotiating in a constructive spirit to work through problems.

Boris was going to bash the backstop and keep the DUP onside, as he needs their votes in the Commons to get the agreement over the line.

By leaving the uncomfortable DUP behind, he has made a calculation that what he loses on the swings, he will gain on the roundabouts.

In other words, he's betting that Tory Brexiteers will come on board and there will be enough Labour rebels sitting in Leave-supporting constituencies who are fed up with the whole Brexit process who will do so as well.

Watch his tone today. I reckon his only chance is if he adopts a Boris The Statesman persona, all reasonable and emollient.

In one sense, he can't lose. If he fails to gain Parliamentary approval today for his deal, which we should always bear in mind is not just Boris's deal but also the EU's deal, it would put a question mark in the minds of the EU over whether there is a point in trying to negotiate any renewed deal with the UK.

Johnson will be required by the Benn Act to write to ask for an extension. Remember, the law only governs that first letter, not subsequent correspondence. So it could go like this – BJ: Blah, blah, blah, I request an extension. Tusk's reply: Why? We have to have a reason for one. BJ follow-up letter: There isn't one.

As for Remainers, the message is this. Don't panic.

Or, to put it another way, panic.

Panic for all you're worth, because if this deal goes through, and Brexit is confirmed on October 31, then it's game over, and we move to a whole new ball game.

The difference between keeping the UK in the EU and getting the UK back in the EU once it's left is like the difference between – and I shall slip into Remainer jargon – jumping off a cliff edge and jumping back up to the top of the cliff.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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