Is Boris Johnson more likely to get a Brexit deal after his meetings with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron? The Prime Minister today tried to dampen hopes, saying that while the ‘mood music’ had been ‘very good’ during his meetings with the two leaders this week, it was still going to be hard to persuade the EU to give way. Speaking during a visit to Devon, Johnson said: ‘This is not going to be a cinch, this is not going to be easy. We will have to work very hard to get this thing done.’
Much of the week has been spent trying to work out what various comments and bits of body language really mean. Was Johnson celebrating successful talks or just having a stretch when he arrived back in Downing Street after his meetings? Was he snubbing the French when he jokingly placed his foot on a table in the Elysée Palace during his meeting with Emmanuel Macron? Was Angela Merkel leaving the door open for a breakthrough – or was she just being polite?
That last question is one Downing Street is particularly interested in answering at the moment. Merkel’s comments about there being 30 days for Johnson to come up with a solution to the backstop were interpreted by many in Britain as being a sign that she was planning to come to the Prime Minister’s aid. But I hear that this evening Johnson’s senior adviser Dominic Cummings told special advisers that he wanted to change the narrative about Merkel being the likely saviour of a deal.
Cummings told the SpAds that David Cameron and Theresa May had both misunderstood Merkel and often relied on her to help them out when there was no realistic possibility that she would. There was no reason to believe that she would be the one to save the Brexit deal this time round, either.
Cameron’s reliance on his ‘naughty nephew’ relationship with Angela Merkel led to him getting such an unconvincing renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with Europe that he had to stop talking about it during the EU referendum campaign. This week, those who understand the German Chancellor argued that she really was just being polite when she appeared to leave the door open to a deal.
So the chances of no deal haven’t reduced this week, according to Cummings at least. He told the advisers at today’s meeting to enjoy their Bank Holiday and get a good rest, because it would be the last real bit of downtime they’d have between now and the end of October. From Tuesday onwards, all of them must be on call at any time to come in and put in big hours on any problem, even if it has nothing to do with their department. Parliament might not return until the following week, but the government machine will already be running at full tilt by the time MPs are back.