Rishi Sunak has more authority and stands taller - it was a good day's work

28 February 2023, 12:58 | Updated: 8 March 2023, 15:15

Andrew Marr analyses Rishi Sunak's new 'Windsor Framework'
Andrew Marr analyses Rishi Sunak's new 'Windsor Framework'. Picture: LBC
Andrew Marr

By Andrew Marr

Most people may have just noticed the hoopla of Windsor, tea with the King, “dear Rishi” from the Commission President Ursula von der Leyen – an unpredicted and slightly underwhelming episode of political theatre.

But what has happened this week is a really big moment. Up to now Rishi Sunak hasn’t really had the tone of voice or authority of a proper prime minister. He was never chosen by the Tory members or elected by the public and he has been hemmed in by Tory critics at Westminster.

They warned him against trying to “compromise” over Northern Ireland with the EU. They told him politicians there would never agree. They told him he had to stick with the brutal weapon of the protocol bill to get anywhere. He ignored them all. He seems to have won - and won big.

Almost all the checks on goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland, which we were told were essential, will go. There will be no new border on the island of Ireland. The authority of the European Court over a few, trade-related issues remains in Northern Ireland but subject to the “Stormont brake”, a locking device triggered by 30 members of the power-sharing assembly. That gives the DUP the strongest possible incentive to go back and make Stormont work again.

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Plaudits have come in from the United States, Ireland and across Europe; in the House of Commons most Tory MPs were loudly cheering Sunak. Things can change very fast and there will probably be trouble ahead of some kind. But compared to the predictions, this is as near a slam dunk as modern politicians get.

We don’t know is whether it leads to a genuine new relationship between the UK and the EU. Von der Leyen virtually announced the return of the important scientific and academic Horizon programme and the mood music is very warm. But will that mean further agreement on trade, citizens’ rights and the migrant boats problem?

All that is for another day. Perhaps having thrown himself into this, and demonstrated what a properly engaged, ferociously hard-working Prime Minister can achieve, Rishi Sunak might know turned his attention to, for instance the nurses strike?

Certainly the Prime Minister has more authority and stands taller. He has more space to develop Conservative policies going forward. Labour’s Keir Starmer had been developing an effective attack line by constantly calling Sunak weak and a man unable to stand up to his own party. That doesn’t really work any longer, does it?

Nobody should get over excited. The cost of living crisis hasn’t gone away and that matters to most voters far more than Northern Ireland does. The Budget is coming up and will be tricky. Those strikes, like the Ukraine war, go on. But this was a good day’s work and leaves the country in a better place.