POLITICS
08/12/2017 18:56 GMT | Updated 08/12/2017 19:08 GMT

Boris Johnson's Tweet Shows Theresa May Has Merely Postponed A Row With Brexit Tories

One Tory warned the deal 'feels a bit like Maastricht'.

Yves Herman / Reuters

After so spectacularly crashing the negotiations on Monday, just getting the car back on the road with the engine running was enough to generate cheers from Tory MPs.

Theresa May’s early morning trek to Brussels after a night of repairing her conked-out deal gave her the result she wanted, and everyone can now move on to round two of these Brexit talks.  

But if May thinks the draft agreement will stop any more sabotage from people back home, she could well be mistaken - especially when hard-core Brexiteers begin looking under the bonnet.

This deal has the feel of a George Osborne Budget about it: Looks good initially, but wait for the day two headlines.

On the face of it, the agreement has been welcomed by all the right people.

Brexit-supporting Cabinet minister Michael Gove said May had “won” in her negotiations with Brussels.

Suella Fernandes, chair of the influential European Research Group of Tory eurosceptics, described it as “pragmatic and flexible”, while former head of Vote Leave Matthew Elliott effused that it was “superb news to wake up to”.

But beneath the exclamation mark laden tweets and virtual pats on the back, some of the older heads in the Brexit world are worried.

Boris Johnson took to Twitter to caveat his initial welcoming of the deal.

Replying to a photo posted of him meeting with May on Thursday afternoon - an attempt to ensure the Foreign Secretary was seen to have signed off on the deal, Johnson tweeted: “Yes, great meeting with PM...found her totally determined that ‘full alignment’ means compatibility with taking back control of our money, laws and borders.” 

John Redwood, whose eurosceptism dates back to him campaigning for out in the 1975 referendum, said “a good deal has to be better than this”.

Former Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson said that while this is a “big improvement” on the version torpedoed by the DUP on Monday, there are “still problematic areas”.

Veteran Eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash described it as a “landmark document” – but that is more because it gets the UK onto trade talks and one step closer to actual Brexit than for anything actually in the agreement. On the detail, Sir Bill said the European Scrutiny Committee, which he chairs, “will be looking at that.”

Peter Nicholls / Reuters
Despite being photo-bombed by this EU flag, John Redwood is a veteran Tory eurosceptic. 

Other Eurosceptic MPs simply refused to speak to the media until they had properly digested the text.

One told HuffPost UK that while the deal seemed to be a victory for May, “this feels a bit like Maastricht” – a reference to the treaty in the 1990s which created the modern European Union and the single currency.

Then-Prime Minister John Major was initially lauded for securing opt-outs for the UK from certain areas of the treaty, but when Eurosceptic Tories realised how much power was being handed over to Brussels, they proceeded to defeat the Government on key votes.

JE via Getty Images
The Maastricht Rebels were a thorn in John Major's side during the mid-1990s.

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One person who has gone through the draft agreement line-by-line is Martin Howe. The Brexit-backing QC is chair of the Lawyers for Britain, and has written extensively on EU law.

Speaking to HuffPost UK, he flagged up several areas of concern for those who want the UK to have a clean break from the EU.

“I have major concerns over the continuing role of the ECJ, as it will still have power to give judgments which alter the law, thereby requiring our courts strike down Acts of Parliament.

“This is a major constitutional issue.

“This creates an effective backdoor for eight years for a foreign court to influence UK law.

“Even after those eight years a significant body of case law will have built up meaning its influence will continue. I can’t think of any precedent in international law of courts of one treaty party making decisions which bind another country which is party to a treaty.”

The continued power of the ECJ to have an impact and influence on laws in the UK is a hill many Tories are prepared to get at least extremely wounded on.

Speaking last week ahead of this latest flurry of activity, a leading Tory Eurosceptic told HuffPost UK that while a possible financial settlement of €40billion was a “pinprick”, the “real battle will be over the ECJ.”

The main fight dominating the talks this week was not over the role of foreign judges of course, but how to keep Northern Ireland’s border with Ireland invisible.

In the coming weeks, much of the talk will be about the true meaning of paragraph 49 of the draft agreement:

The United Kingdom remains committed to protecting North-South cooperation and to its guarantee of avoiding a hard border. Any future arrangements must be compatible with these overarching requirements. The United Kingdom’s intention is to achieve these objectives through the overall EU-UK relationship. Should this not be possible, the United Kingdom will propose specific solutions to address the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland. In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.

Former Brexit Minister David Jones summed up the concerns about that section when he appeared on BBC Radio 4 on Friday lunchtime:

“The worry about that of course is that that could well relate to very important areas, for example agriculture, which we would want to throw into the mix in negotiating a free trade agreement with a third country…and if this were to persist then it could severely handicap our ability to enter into those free trade agreements. So I think we do need to see that particular provision refined.”

Howe agrees that this section is worrying, and told HuffPost UK: “This depends on how the EU interpret it.

“They will put clauses into the free trade agreement which will limit what the UK can do in certain sectors, including limiting our ability to import goods from third countries which will interfere with our ability to conclude free trade agreements.”

If the EU does present the UK with a list of sectors it believes needs to remain aligned with its rules, May will be forced to make the decision she is currently avoiding - i.e. what kind of Brexit she actually wants.

If she decides to accept the EU’s demands, Johnson may decide that is the moment to walk, knowing he has an army of eurosceptics behind him who could help wrestle the steering wheel free from May and put him in the driving seat.

As it is, May has kept the car on the track with the engine ticking over, but no one is quite sure what has been put into the Sat-Nav.