Brexit breakthrough has given Sunak a ‘remarkable’ chance

Brexit: Remainers lack ‘self-reflection’ on 2016 vote says Goodwin

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Rishi Sunak’s Windsor Framework offers a chance to turn the page of the bitter wrangling which has characterised British politics since 2016, a Brexit-backing author has said. And, speaking before predecessor Boris Johnson’s intervention later in the week, Matthew Goodwin, Professor of Politics in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent, argued the Prime Minister has sufficient political capital in the bank to “start a new chapter in the Brexit story”.

Mr Sunak and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, staged a joint press conference in London on Monday to unveil details of an agreement they hope will resolve outstanding issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol, the controversial mechanism intended to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Mr Johnson waded into the debate in a speech delivered in Westminster on Thursday, saying he would “find it difficult” to vote for Mr Sunak’s plan.

Nevertheless, Prof Goodwin, whose new book, Values, Virtues & Voice: The New British Politics is published on March 30 by Penguin Random House, believes Mr Sunak has made significant progress.

He told “I think we are seeing really a new chapter in the Brexit story.

“Rishi Sunak has won plaudits on both the left and the right and this may be the beginning of a recovery in his party’s fortunes.

“If you think about Sunak in the context of the Union, then over the last month, you know, he’s helped to bring down Nicola Sturgeon, he’s helped to essentially deal a blow to the independence movement in Scotland.

“And now he’s arguably helped improve the situation in Northern Ireland.”

Many Tories struggled when it came to Mr Sunak because he lacked the sizeable mandate Mr Johnson had as a result of his 2019 election victory, Prof Goodwin pointed out.

However, he added: “The fact remains that he is getting things done in office, although whether he can close the enormous poll deficit that his party has is another thing altogether.

“There are lots of real Conservative voters who feel completely adrift from the party. But in terms of Number 10, in terms of Westminster, in terms of the media class, he’s doing what he needs to do.”

The new proposals are being carefully scrutinised by both the eurosceptic Tory MPs in the European Research Group (ERG) and members of the Democratic Unionist Party, and Prof Goodwin acknowledged the ongoing, albeit slimmed-down, role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) would remain a concern to both groups.

He said: “That will make many Brexiteers feel instinctively anxious and uneasy that it will also make many voters feel instinctively anxious and uneasy.

“The bottom line with Brexit was about a reassertion of the primacy of the UK’s domestic institutions and laws over those in Brussels and Strasbourg.

“And not only in terms of the Northern Ireland deal but also in terms of the role of things like the European Convention on Human Rights, the ability of the UK to deport foreign nationals who commit violent offences, there is a sense among voters and I have polled them regularly that actually the UK still has not regained full control over issues that they care deeply about.

“So it is a new chapter in the Brexit story but it’s not the end of the Brexit story.

“It’s not the end of our debate about our relationship with European institutions across the Channel.

“But it is going to be, I think, a quieter, calmer time in British politics.

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Addressing the specific issue of the so-called Stormont Brake, which provides a means to veto EU legislation in “exceptional circumstances”, Prof Goodwin said: “My understanding of the text is that this would give more power to political authorities in Northern Ireland than they currently have.

“There will be an ability to refuse to adopt laws that conflict with UK law. Whether or not the DUP feel that that’s gone far enough, is perhaps another question.

“But I think there’s a greater sense that more power has been given to politicians and leaders in Northern Ireland than they have currently.”

Asked for the reasons why Britain had found itself in the position it had over the course of the last four years, Prof Goodwin added: “We’re here because Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal, while important in getting Brexit overall over the line in 2019, left a number of issues unresolved and some of those issues were relating to the border being down the Irish Sea between much of the UK and Northern Ireland and that was an unsustainable position, understandably, for the DUP and many Conservatives and Brexiteers.

“So in the rush to get Brexit over the line that really left a number of issues in Northern Ireland unresolved and Boris Johnson and his team were very open about that.”

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Sunak and von der Leyen speak on NI protocol deal

“I think there is a cross party consensus on this, even the ERG members are broadly supportive. Steve Baker and others have voiced support.

“This is not a toxic division in the way that, say, Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement was, or other attempts to dilute or try and block Brexit, were in that infamous 2016 to 2019 period.”

As for the DUP, Prof Goodwin ventured: “I don’t think the DUP, even if they wanted to, which I don’t think they do, will be able to completely derail what has been what has been agreed.

“So I think there will be some unhappy voices in Northern Ireland but on balance, I think this is a framework that is going to be adopted and going to be put into place.

“Now of course, things are subject to change. We will have, for example, potentially governments in the future that want an even closer relationship with the EU.

“So there’s no guarantee that the tensions have been cooled for the longer term. But at the moment I think there is a remarkable consensus that this is the way to go currently.”

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