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Thursday 13 June 2019

Bojo is finally a go. Boris Johnson took just six questions from the media at his much-anticipated launch event yesterday. The press have become obsessed with the favourite for the Tory leadership’s lack of exposure as his competitors desperately jump over one another for attention. Why would Boris do anything other than play it safe, he’s odds on to win. If he doesn’t make it to Number 10 it will be entirely his fault.

Promising the “guts and courage” to take Britain out of the EU by October 31st, the Brexiteer refused to rule out a No Deal departure, saying it was “astonishing that anyone could suggest dispensing with that vital tool of negotiation.”

No doubt it will have come as a relief to him along with rest of the 17.4m that yesterday’s Commons motion to take No Deal off the table through another takeover failed. The government did the unusual thing of winning, 309 votes to 298. Ten Tory MPs (see below) sided with the opposition.

The likes of Clarke, Grieve and Lee – the latter two now deselected – would be wise to listen to Boris’s words.

“I think it will be very difficult for friends in Parliament to obstruct the will of the people and simply to block Brexit.

“I think if we now block it, collectively as parliamentarians we will reap the whirlwind and we will face mortal retribution from the electorate.”

This contest is but the “the opening salvo in a battle to restore faith in our democracy…and to protect this country from the red-toothed, red-clawed socialism of today’s Labour Party.”

Hitting back was Philip Hammond, who in usual Remoaner style said it would be “very difficult or impossible” to leave the EU within the next five months. The chancellor predicts a repeat of the fiasco under Theresa May if her successor tries anything new. There wasn’t much blood and guts to her game though was there.

“I don’t think it will be in our national interest that we drive towards this cliff-edge at speed,” added Hammond.

Is it in the national interest deny ourselves commercial opportunities with massive economies like the United States by committing to permanent vassalage in the dwindling Single Market.

Any negative comments from the anti-Brexit chancellor are an endorsement, and as Boris climbs further and further ahead of the chasing pack, it’s beginning to look like he can afford a gaff or two and still romp to victory.

Michael Gove’s experimentation with cocaine in his younger days has “f***ed” him” and “handed the whole show to Boris,” a Tory backbencher tells the Mail. Remainer Jeremy Hunt is now thought by many to be the next biggest threat, but one of his backers admits Boris’s successor at the Foreign Office would get flattened in final run-off.

Over in Brussels speculation over what the next European Commission is going to look like is gathering momentum – you can look at the latest odds for the various, extremely dull candidates here. This has a bearing on Brexit. While some of the potential new commissioners are cause for optimism – Matteo Salvini has chosen a known Eurosceptic as Italy’s representative – only Jean-Claude Juncker’s replacement as Commission President will be able to steer negotiations in a new direction.

The Telegraph’s EU expert, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard is confident Bulgaria’s Kristalina Georgieva would “undoubtedly change the chemistry over Brexit.”

Goergieva resigned from the Juncker Commission over Michel Barnier’s appointment to sort out Brexit, telling Politico she “couldn’t handle it anymore”. She has also described the architect of the EU’s UK strategy from since before the referendum, Martin Selmayr, as “poisonous” and wants the UK and the EU to “come to their senses” by agreeing on a deal, implying changes on the EU side.

But the likes of Georgieva, who is from Bulgaria, the EU’s poorest member state, and Salvini will want to hold onto that £39bn. A traditional trade deal without a massive exit fee looks unlikely.

No Deal is the best feasible option, and it’s possible, provided a real Brexiteer gets into Number 10, but we can already see a new deal being sketched out, one that could get over the line in the Commons.

Interviewed earlier this week by Politico, the outgoing Juncker insisted  “There will be no renegotiations as far as the content of the Withdrawal Agreement is concerned.” There’s no chance of a time limit on the backstop, but changes could be made to the political declaration, a pathetic substitute that’s been mooted ever since May’s first catastrophic defeat.

Juncker won’t be involved in any renegotiation of the deal, but he’s probably correct. Georgieva is a 16/1 outsider. All the favourites are from the North Western end of the Continent, they love Barnier’s deal, indeed one of them is Barnier (3/1). Furthermore, the BBC’s Brussels correspondent reported last week that the EU is re-assessing the backstop. It is not a “slab of marble”, bits of it can be shaved off. A compromise points to a convoluted time limit.

On Tuesday we learnt the EU is looking at state of the art technology to implement at the Irish border in the event of No Deal Brexit, thereby undermining completely the need for a backstop.

Could it be the leaked document revealing the new tech was intended for a British audience – the Sun got the scoop. Brussels will be tempted to think the British public can be pacified into thinking that even if the backstop is triggered, it will be untriggered in the not too distant future as a new border system is devised by the British government and accepted by the EU.

Throw in some slightly less waffly guarantees that the backstop cannot last forever – the last set of assurances were truly embarrassing – and you probably have a deal that while still atrocious, is able to get a Commons majority.

Remember, May’s deal only lost by 68 votes at the last attempt. What are odds of Boris using his charisma, a change in tone and a bit of new wording to cut that margin down by half?

The answer: worryingly high. As a caveat to his No Deal assurance at yesterday’s launch Boris said No Deal was not the “aim”.