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Work In Progress …

Rishi Sunak’s been a busy bunny of late. Besides trying to inherit Boris Johnson’s mantle as Ukraine’s chief cheerleader, he may be inching closer to restoring proper government in Northern Ireland. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, this is fraught with risk, but the rewards could be golden.

Dear old Bozza sold his Brexit deal as ‘oven ready’. All that was needed was to pop it in the microwave.

Yerright. As everyone knows, if you turn it on with nothing in it the wretched thing fizzes and pops and threatens to stop working.

Which is exactly what happened in Belfast. A year ago this month the biggest Unionist party collapsed the executive in protest at the new arrangements.

Because the six counties of the north have a land border with the rest of Ireland, which is in the EU, special arrangements were needed for moving stuff in and out.

The implication being, as far as those Unionists were concerned, the province would no longer be a fully paid-up member of the UK.

What the hell? It’ll sort of work. That was Johnson’s jolly take at the time.

Never really a details man, he bulldozed through his hard Brexit regardless of any pitfalls that may be in its path.

His refrain, let’s just get it done, came in defiance of anguished pleas from company bosses concerned that the new layers of red tape would make their lives harder.

Most memorably, as well as pithily, he only half jokingly said: ‘F*** business.’

Indeed, it does seem a bit f-worded. Top financial research outfit Bloomberg estimatesJohnson’s deal is costing us about a hundred billion pounds a year.

Maybe it’ll all come right in the end, though there’s not much sign as yet of the new golden era of wonderful worldwide trading deals to make us all richer.

Meantime, it’s sure as hell left Northern Ireland in a right pickle.

Sunak’s solution, to create a sort of fast lane for goods going there and no further from mainland Britain, seems to be ticking boxes.

His idea of watering down involvement of the European Court of Justice in sorting any disputes that might arise is also playing reasonably well.

But sensitivities about any suggestion that Brussels is somehow still sneaking into the equation are beyond acute in fundamentalist Unionist minds.

Against that, the temptation to start running the show again properly is strong and only human.

Not that that will feature in the minds of the diehard Eurosceptics in the Tory party at Westminster.

These guys have been a thorn in the side of Conservative Prime Ministers since John Major’s days.

Though David Cameron, in a fit of ill-judged hubris, wrote them off as ‘swivel-eyed loons’, they had the last laugh at his expense.

Little wonder it took him so long to write his memoirs. Perhaps little wonder also that when it did finally hit the bookshelves it didn’t sell too well.

Politics is and always was a brutal business. Italian dictator Mussolini’s foreign minister summed it up nicely.

‘Victory finds a hundred fathers but defeat is an orphan.’

If Sunak’s Northern Ireland gambit works will be an unquestionable victory. Proof that he can actually do things, as opposed to merely promising them.

And vice versa.

Either way, however, he still has to manage a parliamentary party that’s currently devoid of discipline, or any particular sense of cohesion.

Even if he manages to sell his Northern Ireland deal to directly interested parties, Cameron’s swivel-eyed loons make yet give him more grief at Westminster.

It’s even possible they’ll join forces with another fractious faction in the party, the Bring Back Boris brigade.

Having been chucked out in disgrace by his own colleagues, his time is surely up, you might think.

But you might be wrong.

According to Sky News, a rebellious Tory tribe titled the Conservative Democratic Organisation will be holding its own conference in May.

This is apparently scheduled for the week after the local elections, which pretty much everyone thinks will be disastrous for the party.

These guys, whose backers include former Johnson ministers and, discreetly, it’s said, Johnson himself, don’t like the way Sunak got the top job.

So their hope, clearly, is to create a standard round which those who want Boris back can faithfully gather.

The underpinning belief is that, as he was the leader who delivered their stonking majority at the last election, he’s the leader who can save them at the next.

A view underpinned by the influential Tory commentator Iain Dale, who last week described Johnson’s return to power as ‘inevitable’.

And there’s no denying the cult of personality looms nearly as large as brutality in modern politics.

Certainly both factors featured in Nicola Sturgeon’s surprise announcement last week that she’s quitting as Scotland’s First Minister and leader of her party.

Even as she was making her long and typically eloquent farewell speech, people were calculating who’d replace her, and where that left Scottish independence.

Same as Johnson, she’s a powerfully magnetic character. But, maybe also the same as Johnson, she made a few booboos towards the end.

Her foray into the transgender minefield was always going to make her as many enemies as friends.

And her idea of framing the next election as an independence referendum in all but name was similarly divisive.

A YouGov poll on the day she quit found Scottish support for re-erecting Hadrian’s Wall had plummeted in recent months, now significantly below fifty per cent.

It also, incidentally, suggested Labour support north of the border has shot up. To the point it’s within touching distance of Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party.

At the last election they lost all but one of their MPs. So for them at least things can only get better, as someone once said.

For now, speculation’s as plentiful as it is premature about who’ll take Sturgeon’s place.

Political epitaphs are also coming in thick and fast. From everywhere, even from across The Pond.

Cue Donald Trump, who loves promulgating his passions all over the place, but who came up against her over his plans.

‘I built the greatest golf properties in the world in Scotland,’ he grumbled, ‘but she fought me all the way, making my job much more difficult.’

Never one to allow commercial concerns to taint political judgements, he added, dispassionately: ‘Good riddance to failed woke extremist Nicola Sturgeon!’

This neatly nuanced analysis is surely proof that Trump’s the obvious next US President and not at all yesterday’s man.

It also proves the utter irrelevance of the final story in this column, which concerns the discovery in Yorkshire of a giant footprint … of a dinosaur.

The metre-long evidence of a meat-eating Jurassic theropod amazed archaeologist Marie Wood.

‘I couldn’t believe what I was looking at, I had to do a double take,’ she said.

Which confirms, same as with maybe comeback kids Trump and Johnson, fact can be stranger than fiction.

Or maybe, without wishing to take anyone’s side, just plain barmy.

Watch Peter’s report HERE


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