!-- consent -->
Sir Keir Starmer tried to form an alliance of convenience with “the irreconcilables” on the Tory benches who are “going to come after” the Prime Minister once they “twig” he has betrayed them over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
It would be most convenient for Sir Keir if Rishi Sunak were to be overthrown by the European Research Group.
But Sunak had already sought to defend himself against that danger by declaring: “I am a Conservative, a Brexiteer and a Unionist.”
And no member of the ERG rose to do Sir Keir’s dirty work for him by plunging a dagger between the PM’s shoulder blades.
Sunak proceeded to accuse Sir Keir of taking “his usual position” on the Protocol negotiations, namely “give the EU a blank cheque”.
“It’s not a strategy, Mr Speaker,” the PM declared. “That’s surrender!”
“No surrender!” as they say in the Province, but since we do not yet have Sunak’s deal, it is not yet possible to say whether, as he today protested, he has “put Northern Ireland first”.
Sir Keir declared, in his most pious tone, that when “the malcontents, the reckless and the wreckers” on the Tory benches do come for Sunak, “we will put country before party” and vote for the Government’s deal.
Labour will rescue Sunak! How kind. But one notes Sir Keir’s assumption that the deal, as yet unseen, will be worth voting for.
None of that nonsense about the Opposition scrutinising what the Government brings back from its negotiations with the European Union and lays before the Commons.
Here speaks a Leader of the Opposition who thinks like a member of the Establishment and can be depended upon to do whatever the Establishment regards as prudent. Any deal, he assumes, is better than no deal.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Leader of the Democratic Unionists, adopted a notably polite tone towards the Prime Minister, said it is “unfair” that EU laws are imposed on Northern Ireland “with no democratic scrutiny”, and asked Sunak to “address these fundamental constitutional issues”.
Sunak agreed that “addressing the democratic deficit” is an essential part of the negotiations.
So the PM understands what is expected of him, and managed to avoid sounding as keen on signing the deal as Sir Keir already is.