- By Chris Mason
- Political Editor, BBC News
“Let’s hope this is one of the last great rollercoaster moments of Brexit.”
A government official told me he expects a momentous moment today — but mundane enough to realize it’s not necessarily the end of the story.
These negotiations between the government and Brussels, the government and Conservative backbenchers and the government and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) have resembled diplomatic Jenga – wobbly bricks here, there and everywhere.
The prime minister called and texted world leaders on Sunday and spoke to some cabinet ministers about Monday’s deal.
There are still talks between Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula van der Leyen.
Among the things they’re talking about, I’m told, is dealing with what some in London see as a “democratic deficit” for Northern Ireland – and that should say more about future changes to EU rules. .
But let’s be clear: the president of the European Commission won’t be here unless sorted.
Don’t be surprised if his visit includes some sort of meeting with the king. Buckingham Palace declined to comment when I asked if this would happen.
But I’m told it’s diplomatically awkward for promises like this to be made – as was the case last week – adjourned to a meeting on Saturday, only to not be kept.
However, I also hear that some strong words are being exchanged within Whitehall about the whole idea of Buckingham Palace offering a meeting with the King so close to a key political moment. Politics.
Is this all politics for Rishi Sunak?
Downing Street will emphasize what they see as the immediate positive of the deal: a better arrangement for Northern Ireland. and restoring relations with the European Union.
Both of these things are important: the former in overcoming circular doubts, which over time is possible, which will improve upon the former.
Everything else requires the Prime Minister to sort out EU cooperation, not the issue of small boat crossings in the canal.
Mr Sunak is due to hold talks with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris next month.
Sorting out the small boats issue is more difficult, but having a decent working relationship with France will help.
The ultimate prize is the re-establishment of a devolved government in Northern Ireland, but little is now being said by government sources.
Of course, they hope it will continue in time – but that is uncertain. The DUP, having appeared suspicious, has now gone quiet.
Note that there are many different voices within the DUP.
What Downing Street is hoping for is that the party formally says it will step away and look at the deal and scrutinize it in detail, rather than immediately, loudly rejecting it.
Jim Allister, head of the TUB’s rival Traditional Unionist Voice, expected “a day of unprecedented cycle and deception as pressure piles on the union to conform”. – I mean he’s not remotely interested.
And then there are the Tory Brexiteers.
Some are in government now, some have won.
Steve Baker, who is now Northern Ireland minister, stepped out into Downing Street at the weekend and gave a very important thumbs up in front of the cameras.
But Marc Francois, head of the European Research Group of Tory backbenchers, is not convinced.
And then, there’s a Boris Johnson.
What could he say or do, how much he could upset the Prime Minister? We will find out soon.
That is why the diplomatic breakthrough for Mr Sunak is a moment of political peril.