Boris Johnson told his MPs on Wednesday he was hopeful of a deal, but felt like he was on the Hillary Step of Everest, while the summit was “shrouded in mist”.
On Thursday, the prime minister reached that summit ashe agreed a new Brexit dealwith the EU 27.
Even a week ago it seemed like an impossible endeavor. But the clouds around him haven’t cleared. He may have reached this summit, but there is another huge mountain to scale back home in parliament if he wants to deliver on his pledge to take the UK out of the EU by 31 October.
This dealcould be scuppered in the House of Commons within the next 48 hours.
Like Theresa May before him, Boris Johnson has got Brussels onside – but not the Democratic Unionist Party.
Brussels onside, parliament not: this is the problem that bedevilled his predecessor.
Mr Johnson, who is now operating a minority government – 45 votes short of a working majority – really needed those 10 DUP votes.
But despite his best efforts, he could not square the circle and bring his unionist allies on board while satisfying the EU 27, too.
Number 10 declared this deal a triumph, with Mr Johnson able to claim he had not crossed his red lines. The Withdrawal Agreement reopened and the backstop removed. Northern Ireland leaving the customs union with the rest of the Great Britain.
But in return, he agreed to a new customs border inside the UK between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain. A border down the Irish Sea with no guarantee for the DUP that they exit that arrangement: too much for the unionists.
Unionists believed Mr Johnson had sold them out because he had, in the words of Westminster leader Nigel Dodds, been “too eager by far to get a deal at any cost “in order to avoid having to ask for a Brexit extension.
” Desperation measures, “was Mr Dodds’ verdict.
Brussels onside, parliament not.
Does this all feel a little bit familiar? Remember that Theresa May also got this far around the track. But she never made it to the finish line – her own Brexit deal voted down three times.
But Mr Johnson, in the words of one senior ministerial colleague, was “desperate for a deal” .
A prime minister who has repeatedly told voters, his party and parliament that Brexit would be delivered on 31 October – do or die – was staring down the barrel ofhaving to request a delayafter MPs passed the Benn Act requiring the prime minister to ask for an extension by 19 October.
Mr Johnson will now frame it as his deal or no deal, as he came to the summit insisting he would not ask for a delay.
He found an unlikely ally in the europhile commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, who told Sky News very clearly that there was no need for a prolongation.
Mr Juncker went on: “[Mr Johnson] and myself don’t think it’s possible to give another prolongation. “
Are you going to rule out an extension? “That’s what I’m saying.”
Of course in reality, if Mr Johnson’s deal fails to pass, parliament will require him to write a letter requesting an extension. )
He would rather not think about that, for the next 24 hours at least.
The prime minister is entirely focused on passing this deal.
Watch to see if he restores the whip to the 21 ex-Tory MPs who voted for the Benn Act to force an extension in the event of Mr Johnson failing to secure a deal and pass it through parliament by
Watch to see if he offers guarantees on workers’ rights and environmental standards in a future trade deal to win over Labor MPs.
And he will no doubt keep working on the DUP – but they are now almost certainly not going to move.
He wants to get Brexit done, but there is still no guarantee that he will be able to. And if he does not, the battle is back on for no-deal versus delay.