Comfortable majority for protocol bill should steady PM

The government’s bill to reform the Northern Ireland Protocol not only passed last night, it did so by a majority roughly as big as Boris Johnson’s government.

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

In other words, there was a tiny Tory rebellion.

This is a highly significant political moment. After all, Mr Johnson has humiliatingly lost the support of a large minority of his Conservative MPs - almost 150 of them.

Had those disaffected Tories decided they wanted to teach the prime minister a lesson, the bill would have fallen at its first hurdle.

The recent vote of confidence in Mr Johnson was evidence that Conservative MPs are not shy about moving against the PM if need be.

Yet they have not chosen the NI Protocol as the catalyst for doing so.

Why is this? At the very least it demonstrates that those MPs do not accept the hype about London having acted abominably over this issue. It might even be that their stance is stronger than this, and they have come to see the grave damage to the UK caused by the Irish Sea border.

Also, there is a growing acceptance across much of the political class in London that the protocol was agreed in 2019 in extremis, by a majority of the then House of Commons that was determined either to stop Brexit or to make it meaningless.

Perhaps the most important aspect of last night’s vote is that it is likely to steady Mr Johnson’s nerves.

According to some accounts, he is said to be vacillating as to what to do over the protocol impasse.

Now that the legislation seems like it will comfortably be able to progress through the House of Commons, Mr Johnson has time to focus on the rightness of what he is doing, as opposed to the question of whether or not it is deliverable.

Meanwhile, the DUP is right to emphasise its commitment to good governance but to hold out until this bill is in place.