Is Dominic Cummings about to derail the government’s plans for a new Northern Ireland protocol? That’s the concern inside government as Boris Johnson’s former adviser shows that he still has the ability to change the political weather from afar. On Tuesday night, there was renewed hope that a solution could be found between the UK and EU on the Northern Ireland protocol. David Frost’s speech in Lisbon was less confrontational than expected and had received cautious praise from diplomats for its more constructive passages. However, as the European Commission prepares to present its proposals for easing the current checks on businesses trading across the Irish Sea, a spanner has been thrown in the works in the form of Cummings.
Johnson’s former aide has suggested that the government always planned to ‘ditch’ the protocol. Cummings says that the priority was to deliver Brexit with the ‘best option’ available at the time and then later ‘ditch’ the bits that they didn’t like once the government was in a more stable position. He says his claims do not amount to saying that Boris Johnson was lying when it came to the protocol. He says the Prime Minister can’t have been lying as ‘he never had a scoobydoo what the deal he signed meant’.
To say those claims have landed badly with the EU would be an understatement. Former taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who was instrumental in negotiating the protocol with Johnson at a countryside retreat, has said that if the UK government acted in bad faith, they could not be trusted on future agreements either. Unsurprisingly the comments are viewed as very unhelpful inside government. The issue ministers face is that they are trying to broker a new agreement with the EU — including renegotiating the role of the ECJ — anything which suggests the UK side cannot be trusted makes that task all the harder.
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