Sunak decides the protocol sucks and the single market is great, after all | John Crace

Was this the same guy who campaigned for Brexit and extolled virtues of Northern Ireland deal under Johnson?

History comes at you fast these days. Many of us could have sworn we saw a man claiming to be the prime minister turn up in Northern Ireland on Tuesday morning. Grinning from ear to ear. All uninfectious enthusiasm that invariably teetered into the annoying and patronising.

This guy was telling us how wonderful the EU single market was and how lucky Northern Ireland was to remain part of it. So it couldn’t have been Rishi Sunak. The Sunak we know and don’t really love campaigned vigorously to get the UK out of the EU and the single market. Had been adamant that Brexit wouldn’t be Brexit unless the UK left the single market. Anything else would be a sellout.

Many of us could also have sworn we saw another man claiming to be the prime minister talking to the same Northern Irish audience about the dangers of the protocol. How it had been a clear and present danger to the Good Friday agreement. How no right-minded person who wanted peace on the Irish mainland could have tolerated it a moment longer.

Only this man also couldn’t have been Sunak. Because Rish! had fought the 2019 general election campaign under Boris Johnson’s leadership on the platform that the NI protocol was the Brexit miracle cure. And guess what? Sunak had gone on to become The Convict’s chancellor without ever admitting to any misgivings about the NI protocol over the next three years. And then, suddenly, this lookalike pops up saying it had been a rubbish idea all along.

It was all most confusing. Odd, even. Then, Brexit can do that to you. Take Lord Frost. Normally he can’t wait to rush into print. A camera or microphone is like crystal meth to him. No chance to prove himself a complete moron is ever passed up. Only Frosty the No Man could rubbish a Brexit deal that he himself had negotiated.

But since Sunak announced his Windsor framework, there has been nothing but radio silence from Frost. The great man has taken to his bed. Astonished to find out that not actively being unpleasant to the EU gets you a better deal than slagging them off. Who would have guessed? Really? But please don’t desert us in our hour of need. Darling, sweetest Frosty. We really can’t get by without you. We need the laughs.

Perhaps then, we are now in a time-slip. Where familiar faces dip in and out of character. Where nothing really makes sense. Where we have slipped so far through the looking-glass we have no choice but to accept any alternative reality. Else we will all go mad. And on to this theatre of dreams stepped Rish! in the latest iteration of his PM DisConnect tour at the Coca-Cola factory in County Antrim. His chance to not really meet the people. Heaven forbid. Like most of the Tory cabinet, he’s never at his most comfortable with the British contact. His slick billionaire charm doesn’t survive contact with reality.

After a brief introduction in which he struggled to stop smiling at his own brilliance, even when extending his sympathies to the police officer who was shot last week, Rish! began to take some questions. Not from the media. Nothing was going to spoil the victory lap on the morning after the night before. He was Simply the Best. Better than all the Rest. Over the moon to have secured a deal that had been beyond any of his Tory predecessors.

“Yes, Miss!,” Sunak gabbled excitedly. He called everyone Miss. Even the men. Miss wanted a quick run down on the benefits of trade. Cue another discourse on the joys of the single market. Northern Ireland was the luckiest country in the entire world. The only one that could trade directly with both the rest of the UK and the EU. If only someone had got round to telling Rish! that before Brexit, England, Scotland and Wales had also enjoyed the same benefits. There again, it was his gift to make Northern Ireland so special.

Rish! bounced up and down as he tried to inject some energy into the occasion. If anything he seemed slightly disappointed not to be greeted as a conquering hero. The man who had danced along the slackwires of diplomacy. There again, maybe the people of Northern Ireland see it rather differently. Why should they bother to be grateful to someone who had merely unfucked something he had fucked-up in the first place. Like someone who lets down your tyres wanting thanks for blowing them up.

A Miss chipped in with a question on the energy crisis. Sunak had just the answer. It was nothing to do with him. He wasn’t the chancellor any more. But he did have this brilliant guy called Grant Shapps as energy minister. By now, Rish! was positively light headed. How else to explain calling Grant brilliant? No one else has ever done that before. The audience looked on blankly. Rish! filled the void with word salad. He wanted everyone to be happy. His daughters knew what it was like to experience poverty. He was just a little guy with a crazy dream to become a world leader.

Back in Westminster, few MPs could be bothered to turn up after Monday’s excitement. One exception was Boris Johnson, who tried to pretend he was interested in energy questions and would have loved to have been able to contribute to the Brexit statement but was unavoidably detained. So brave. He’s rapidly turning into yesterday’s man. Sunak will be keen for him to stay buried. Johnson scuttled off before the tributes to Betty Boothroyd. He’s never one to give another parliamentarian their due. And besides, BB had seen through Boris and loathed him.


John Crace

The GuardianTramp

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