Is this the week Boris Johnson passes his Brexit deal? As ever with Brexit, there is a chance that what is meant to be a decisive week in terms of the UK’s exit from the European Union ends up leading to more delay and confusion. However, whatever happens in the coming days, senior Tories are increasingly relaxed. It’s not that ministers are confident they will be able to pass the Withdrawal Agreement Bill unscathed. Instead they believe Johnson’s deal puts the party in a good position for whatever comes next.
The risk to Johnson agreeing a deal before a general election was that senior Brexiteers in his own party would reject it – and decry it as Brino (Brexit in name only). This would put Johnson in a vulnerable position in any following general election with his Brexiteer credentials dented. However, he is yet to have a single Tory Brexiteer take to the airwaves to criticise the arrangement. The bulk of the European Research Group – made up of eurosceptic backbenchers – will vote for it (a handful could abstain). There have been no Cabinet resignations with both Priti Patel and Theresa Villiers staying put.
As for the public reaction, the initial signs are promising. A handful of polls have been published since the deal was unveiled. In each poll, a significant chunk of those surveyed say they do not know enough about the deal to say whether they back it or not. However in each poll, more say they support Johnson’s deal than indicate they are opposed to it.
BREAKING: Snap YouGov poll finds that by 41% to 24%, Britons want Parliament to pass Boris Johnson's Brexit deal. Two thirds (67%) of Leave voters want the deal passed https://t.co/2FZCSNZmE2 pic.twitter.com/PhQ4skIuFE
— YouGov (@YouGov) October 18, 2019
This is encouraging to No. 10 as Theresa May’s deal received a much more negative response.
If Johnson cannot pass his deal in the Commons this week, the initial signs suggest that he stands a good chance of selling it in any forthcoming public vote. ‘It’s win win,’ says a No. 10 source. An extension is still risky for Johnson but there’s a sense among Johnson allies that they can survive it and make others carry the blame. Some go further and say the deal helps even if a second referendum follows (an outcome No. 10 views as a worst-case scenario). As one Cabinet minister tells me: ‘At least in a second referendum it would now be Remain vs Boris’s deal rather than May’s. That’s a deal we could all campaign for’. It follows that even the worst case scenario no longer looks so bad to senior Tories.