The Windsor Framework agreed between the EU and the UK demonstrates that Sunak has opted for pragmatism over ideology. This is a compromise solution that challenges the Tory Party extremists in the European Research Group (ERG) and their policy of confrontation in the name of taking back control. In fact, their policy was always about removing any controls and opening up the UK to the hedge funds and private equity firms that had been partially held at bay by the regulatory framework around the single market that is overseen by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
In their eagerness to loot the economy and privatise the NHS they forgot that the Good Friday Agreement, which brought an end to years of violence involving the British Army and nationalist and unionist paramilitaries, was a legally binding international treaty that depended on an open border between the Six Counties and the Irish Republic if it was to work.
To a large degree it did work until the Tory extremists in the ERG pushed for a hard Brexit that ‘freed’ us from EU regulation and the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Although Johnson publicly lied about it this meant that, unless a compromise could be reached on the question of the Irish border, there would have to be a border in the Irish Sea.
Now that compromise has been reached, but there is still a way to go. Even before we find out if the red lanes and green lanes for traded goods and the Stormont Brake on egregious interference by the ECJ are a workable solution, Sunak has to face down his own right wingers and see off a potential revolt led by Johnson who is unhappy that his legacy of getting Brexit done is being undone by his successor.
Then there is the DUP. The power sharing agreement in the Northern Ireland Assembly has broken down, ostensibly over the Northern Ireland Protocol and the border question. But the DUP fears the growing political growth of Sinn Fein and their worst nightmare is a Sinn Fein majority on both sides of the border. A century of unionist dominance in the Six Counties is under threat, and they may try to sabotage the deal to protect their own position.
The most likely outcome is that the framework will be approved with Labour Party support. But this could be bad news for Sir Keir Starmer. He has just announced “Five Missions” which include getting Brexit done properly. But if he helps Sunak to defeat the Tory extremists it means he and Sunak will both be competing for the same centrist ground.
And with the Tories boasting that Northern Ireland now has the best of both worlds, enjoying access to the Single Market and the UK market, this could well prompt the pro-EU voices in the Labour Party to ask why the rest of us cannot have the same deal. Having used the EU to sabotage Labour’s chances in the 2019 general election, it would be ironic if the same arguments damaged Sir Keir’s ambition to enter Number Ten. More important than that, Sir Keir and his acolytes have completely accepted the pro-business, pro-privatisation agenda of the Tories. In that sense whatever happens to the ERG and the DUP is irrelevant. Labour is now permanently infected with their poison.