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Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal to die




It is hard to say which is the greater achievement. The four-minute mile or the four-minute failure. Both, in their way, pushed back the boundary of the possible. The world knew Bannister was good, but not that good. The world knows Boris Johnson is hopeless, but this bad?

First thing Thursday morning, the deal was off. The Democratic Unionist Party had refused to sign up to it. There was no way it was getting through the House of Commons. That’s it. The end.

BORIS JOHNSON was in ebullient mood when he spoke to the press in Brussels on the evening of October 17th, even talking eagerly of his dinner plans. But his main goal was to persuade those watching, especially in Westminster, that he had secured what he called “a great deal for our country and for the EU”. He has less than 48 hours to win over MPs, who are due to vote on the agreement on October 19th, in a rare Saturday sitting.

Then, at 10.35am, everything changed. “We’ve got a great new deal that takes back control,” Boris Johnson announced, via his own Twitter account, the first of a string of six triumphant tweets whose triumph would last for around 240 seconds.

The prime minister’s achievement is noteworthy, since many critics said he was bound to fail. He forced the European Union to reopen the withdrawal agreement it made with his predecessor, Theresa May.

He struck a deal with Leo Varadkar, the Irish taoiseach, by talking to him in person. And he successfully ignored advice that the European Council would never endorse a last-minute deal by getting his fellow EU leaders to back an agreement reached only hours before their meeting.

He even persuaded them to express hopes that the deal would be ratified in time for Brexit to happen on October 31st, a target he has repeatedly promised to hit, “do or die”.

Juncker, Varadkar, Tusk and Michel Barnier appeared later. All of them spoke with an air of finality – that Brexit is indeed done. “Brexit has been a negative experience, a lose-lose process,” Barnier said.

The Brexit “deal” he has done amounts to no more than a return to the offer rejected by Theresa May in 2018, to essentially keep Northern Ireland within the EU’s economic structures after the rest of the UK leaves, with the earliest practical chance for it to change its mind coming in 2028.

The terms of Johnson’s deal are essentially the same as the ones he took it upon himself, as a backbench MP, to fly to the DUP’s conference in Belfast in 2018 and tell them, “no British prime minister could ever sign up to”.

The UK is still not out of that door. Should it ever be so, the chance of it remaining outside for the “generations” that are often spoken of seem tremendously unlikely.

There is, of course, a certain amount of shame that comes with having to admit you were taken in by Boris Johnson. But it is also the first step to recovering one’s dignity. He knows better than anyone that everybody does it in the end.

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