And so it begins:
The sudden smiles from Leo Varadkar, the Irish Taoiseach, after his meeting with Boris Johnson in the Wirral on Thursday caught everyone by surprise.
They didn’t take me by surprise, because I’ve been predicting the last-minute stitch-up for years.
For the last three weeks EU diplomats and officials have been relentlessly pessimistic about the prospects of an agreement, with the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, frankly telling the European Parliament they were “not in a position” to make a deal.
Then Mr Varadkar emerged from his three-hour meeting with Mr Johnson saying he was “confident” the two sides could cut a deal by the looming Oct 17 deadline at next week’s European Council summit in Brussels.
All so last minute that there won’t be time to properly assess the deal, and Parliament might vote for it out of fear that the alternative is no deal. All as predicted.
The Tories may have gotten rid of some of their more extreme members, but despite the bleatings of the media that the Tories have turned into the Brexit party, this is still a soft, wet give-in-at-the-last-minute party.
Dominic Cummings was used to make it look for real that the Tories would pull out without a deal, but that was all a bluff, a device to make the EU soften a bit. He’ll soon be discarded now that his role is almost finished.
(In fact, it was barely even a bluff, given that Johnson was telling everyone within earshot that the chances of no deal were a million to one. That’s where Cummings came in. To give no deal some credibility. The only interest with him is how far he was in on this. How much was his Friday night ‘leak’ to James Forsyth true, and how much was just part of the plan?)
Despite Johnson’s tricks, the EU has still won. They held so fast for so long against such a weak opponent, and then against an opponent almost as weak, that the deal we have now proposed is going to be little different from the one the EU wrote for May in 2018.
It’s not that the EU is all that clever, but they know that you hold firm and use your advantages as ruthlessly as you can (which is much easier to do when you don’t have frightened voters to worry about, and you have a compliant media). They’ve had centuries of strong-arm rulers to set an example for them, whereas Britain has forgotten its history and seems to imagine that we’re negotiating with another nice democracy.