The news of the day is that a Brexit deal has been done between the UK and the EU – and it’s being heralded as progress. A great achievement by Boris Johnson and the bloc alike. A huge step forward.
But is it really a step forward if, in the year since Theresa May’s deal was negotiated, we have taken about a hundred steps back?
Now, just less than a year later, we are in almost exactly the same position as when May agreed a deal with the EU on 14 November 2018. And this time, we only have two weeks to go until we leave.
We’ve seen Johnson lose commons vote after commons vote, lose a Supreme Court Battle, and cause chaos in parliament and the Conservative party since his election.
What we shouldn’t forget is that May’s agreed deal only marked the start of her real problems, with her even facing a no confidence vote from some particularly disgruntled MPs in December. It seems naive to assume that, just because he’s had his fair share of problems so far, this deal will mean the end of Johnson’s.
Not only is there only two weeks to go until the Brexit deadline, Johnson does not even have the luxury that couldn’t save his predecessor – a majority in parliament. In fact, he has a majority of minus 43. He’s further weakened by the increasing support for a confirmatory referendum in parliament, now the official position of the Labour leadership and backed by more of his own or former Tory MPs. The Benn act weakens him further still.
Despite the achievement of a deal, which, let’s not forget, still has not been agreed by the DUP, it should be obvious to everyone that Johnson is in a far weaker position to deliver Brexit than Theresa May was. If she could not manage it then, how can he manage it now?
Johnson may have done the unexpected, but it’s because of how disastrous his premiership has been that reaching any sort of deal, achieving any sort of development, became so unexpected.
There is also an argument behind the overhyping of this deal. We’ve seen Johnson lose commons vote after commons vote, lose a Supreme Court Battle, and cause chaos in parliament and the Conservative party since his election. It is no surprise that people were sceptical he would be able to get a deal, so any progress he makes is, understandably, overhyped. When his previous actions have led people to rightfully expect the worst, anything but the worst seems like a victory, but maybe it shouldn’t.
Johnson may have done the unexpected, but it’s because of how disastrous his premiership has been that reaching any sort of deal, achieving any sort of development, became so unexpected. If his tactic was to be so terrible as to make people believe he could never do it so they’d be surprised when he did, then he’s played a blinder. I’m not entirely sure, by the amount of times we’ve heard no-deal mentioned that Johnson ever thought he could do it either.
Just because diabetics might not have to stockpile insulin, just because the very worst aspects of Brexit might not be realised, it does not mean that Brexit will be good for the UK.
The dire circumstances set out in the Yellowhammer document, like food shortages, medicine shortages, and pile ups at Dover, may not be the case with this new deal – but we should still be careful. Just because diabetics might not have to stockpile insulin, just because the very worst aspects of Brexit might not be realised, it does not mean that Brexit will be good for the UK. If we have learnt anything over the past three and a half years, it should be that any form of Brexit would be a more damaging prospect than the current deal we have with the EU.
Johnson's spent the last few months just trying to build the boat, but now he has to actually see if it will float.
The last few months of chaos for the government has done damage to the Brexit dream. It was only recently that YouGov crunched the numbers on the 300 polls on Brexit and came to the conclusion that the polling evidence was “concrete”: there was now a majority for remain. It seems there are more MPs on board with the idea of a confirmatory referendum than ever more. And it should not be forgotten that the Kyle-Wilson amendment, that would attach a confirmatory vote to any deal, got the most votes of any of the indicative Brexit votes that were carried out in April.
As mentioned earlier, the agreement of a deal was actually only really the beginning of problems for May, and there’s every likelihood that this could be the case for Boris Johnson. After months of uncertainty and speculation, he is now just about in the same position as his unsuccessful predecessor.
In no way should it be assumed that it is smooth sailing for the prime minister from now on. To take that metaphor further, you could say he’s spent the last few months just trying to build the boat, but now he has to actually see if it will float.
Abby Tomlinson is a freelance journalist