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Friday 8 June 2018

The red mist separating the pro-Brexit section of the establishment from Theresa May’s catastrophic negotiation is fast turning into a grey fog. Yesterday’s formal proposal to the EU to stay in the Customs Union until the end of 2021, but with a very wide scope to remain indefinitely, is arguably the biggest setback so far. Yet, with the typical exception of Nigel Farage, the pro-Leave discontent has been lacking. “Brexit back on track” declares triumphantly the normally anti-EU Express on its front page today (see below). It most certainly is not.

Yesterday began with plenty of excitement and optimism. David Davis had put Theresa May in a difficult position by suggesting he would resign over the PM’s plans to amend the unacceptable backstop over the Irish border which would entail Britain staying in the Customs Union.

The mooted change was to add some fluffy language to help raise hopes Britain would not languish in Customs purgatory indefinitely. Specifically, Davis wanted an end-date issued to the EU. After a “series of frantic” meetings, the Brexit Secretary, got his date, completely undermined by the word “expects”:

“The UK is clear that the future customs arrangement needs to deliver on the commitments made in relation to Northern Ireland. The UK expects the future arrangement to be in place by the end of December 2021 at the latest.” Click here for the government’s “technical document” to the EU in full.  

An expectation is no certainty. Furthermore, this is a proposal, the EU will seek to meet halfway on. It needed to be communicated as an absolute red line. We leave in 2021, or no deal, no £39bn.

But if Mrs May were to be that forthright, we wouldn’t be poised to pay the divorce bill in the first place, the same goes for transition. We should have left the EU by now, not meekly asking to remain a little longer.

Untypically, the EU has not thrown it back in May’s face. There’s a sense in Brussels that Britain has been bullied enough. Nevertheless, we are on the ropes, the EU has every incentive to land a killer punch.

Yesterday’s drama unfolded in real time, the Davis-May face-off that never was and the EU proposal has already receded into history. The top story today is a recording of a series of rather splendid comments made by Boris Johnson at a private dinner.

Here are two gems:

“The inner struggle, is very, very difficult. The Treasury, which is basically the heart of Remain … what they don’t want is friction at the borders. They don’t want any disruption. So they’re sacrificing all the medium and long-term gains … That fear of short-term disruption has become so huge in people’s minds that they’re turning them all wet.”

Visit Westmonster for more.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Boris has hit the nail on the head. May’s diplomatic approach has proved to be completely inappropriate. Meanwhile, not enough attention has been paid to the Treasury and its desperation to stay tied to the EU and its ruinous rules. Equally, his comments on the Irish border, (“we’re allowing the whole of our agenda to be dictated by this folly”) are spot on.

Johnson would be an invincible force on the backbenches. Should we pray May sack him?