Downing Street always intended to “ditch” parts of the Brexit deal and Boris Johnson “never had a scoobydoo” what the agreement actually meant, his former right-hand man Dominic Cummings has claimed, as the government urges Brussels to rewrite the agreement.
Following months of discontent with the Northern Ireland protocol, Brexit minister Lord Frost has threatened to unilaterally suspend the mechanism, negotiated just two years ago as part of the Brexit deal, unless the EU agrees to effectively tear it up and replace it.
Insisting that “we always sign treaties in good faith and intend to implement them”, Lord Frost suggested on Tuesday that it would be a “historic misjudgement” for Brussels not to renegotiate the protocol governing trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
But he was contradicted by the prime minister’s now-departed chief political aide, who claimed to have always planned to “ditch bits [of the deal] we didn’t like after whacking” former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in the 2019 general election.
Mr Cummings’ comments – which came as the EU pledged “very far-reaching” proposals to fix the situation – were described as “very alarming” by Ireland’s deputy premier, Leo Varadkar, who warned political leaders not to enter any agreements with the UK Government until they are “confident that they keep their promises”.
The former Vote Leave campaigner who masterminded Mr Johnson’s Brexit strategy during his first 16 months in Downing Street has made several explosive claims about the prime minister since he was reportedly told to “never return” to No10 following a vicious power struggle.
As the UK escalated its brinkmanship over the Brexit deal on Tuesday, Mr Cummings described a situation in which “we took over a party” on around 10 per cent in the polls amid the “worst constitutional crisis in [a] century” and a “totally f*****g negotiating situation”, with much of the “deep state” angling for “Brexit in name only” or a second referendum.
“So we wriggled [through] with best option we [could] and intended to get [Mr Johnson] to ditch bits we didn’t like after whacking Corbyn. We prioritised,” he said on Twitter, in an apparent reference to the Brexit deal.
As the UK seeks to forge new global partnerships, Mr Cummings claimed that, “for all the cant” about international law, countries “break it every week”, adding: “The idea it’s the epitome of morality is low grade student politics pushed by lawyers/officials to constrain politics they oppose.”
Describing lawyers as “hired help, not the masters”, Mr Cummings said that while countries should generally stick to treaties, they should “of course” sometimes break them, “just like the EU, US, China and every other state does”.
He said his claims did not mean the prime minister lied during the 2019 general election, when he repeatedly insisted there would be “no border down the Irish Sea”.
Instead, Mr Johnson “never had a scoobydoo what the deal he signed meant”, did not understand what leaving the Customs Union meant until the eleventh-hour of trade deal negotiations in November 2020, and claimed in January that year he would have “never signed” the Brexit withdrawal agreement “if I’d understood it”, Mr Cummings alleged.
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His intervention came as a report in The Guardian suggested the EU was preparing to offer to significantly reduce border checks on British goods entering Northern Ireland in an attempt to break the political deadlock.
European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic had previously said the proposals would be “very far-reaching”, and was expected to front a press conference on Wednesday.
However, in the wake of Mr Cummings’ comments, Ireland’s Tanaiste warned that the UK could be acting “in bad faith” over the Northern Ireland protocol.
“I saw those comments; I hope Dominic Cummings is speaking for himself and not for the British Government,” Leo Varadkar told RTE Morning Ireland.
“But those comments are very alarming because that would indicate that this is a government, an administration, that acted in bad faith and that message needs to be heard around the world. If the British Government doesn’t honour its agreements, it doesn’t adhere to treaties it signs, that must apply to everyone else too.
“At the moment they’re going around the world, they’re trying to negotiate new trade agreements … Surely the message must go out to all countries around the world that this is a British Government that doesn’t necessarily keep its word and doesn’t necessarily honour the agreements it makes.
“And you shouldn’t make any agreements with them until such time as you’re confident that they keep their promises, and honour things, for example, like the protocol.”
In an apparent response on Wednesday morning, Mr Cummings dismissed talk of acting in “good faith” as a “babble of student politics from SW1 insiders infantilised by EU membership”. He added: “It was international diplomacy vs people trying to cut our balls off. Of course there wasn’t ‘good faith’.”
The previous day, Lord Frost had risked inflaming tensions as he accused Brussels of being “disrespectful” to Britain, claiming the bloc was attempting to “encourage UK political forces to reverse the referendum result or least keep us closely aligned with the EU”.
Speaking in Lisbon as he presented the European Commission with a proposed “new legal text” to replace the protocol, Lord Frost said: “For the EU now to say that the protocol – drawn up in extreme haste in a time of great uncertainty – can never be improved upon, when it is so self-evidently causing such significant problems, would be a historic misjudgement.”