Only a matter of days ago, Mr Johnson survived a confidence vote that, nonetheless, showed 41 percent of his own party had lost faith in his abilities as Prime Minister. Now, he is preparing to publish domestic legislation that would override elements of the Protocol, which governs post-Brexit trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The boss of the Institute for Government think tank (IfG) has warned the Tory leader might not be in the best position for such a move.
The IfG’s Bronwen Maddox told Politico: “This is a big gamble, and it’s one he’s in a less good position to take than he was a week ago because of the opposition against him.”
Monday night’s secret ballot saw 148 Conservative MPs saying they wanted Mr Johnson out of Downing Street.
The vote, held by the 1922 Committee, was triggered by the rule-breaking gatherings that took place during lockdown in and around Westminster throughout the pandemic.
And although 211 of the Prime Minister’s MPs backed him — with some publicly stating it is time to “move forward” and “focus on the job” — it is yet to be seen whether he is able to deal with such a controversial issue.
The bill, a long-anticipated revision of the NI Protocol, was signed off by Mr Johnson within 48 hours. There has been little time for those who lost trust in him — including a not-so-small number of Tory rebels — to build that back again.
And that is exactly what Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer pinpointed as part of the problem.
He said: “Trust is very important in all of this and this Prime Minister does not have the trust, or I fear he doesn’t have the trust, to negotiate in the way that I actually think would lead to a solution to the problems.”
Sir Keir said the challenges posed by the NI Protocol can be overcome with flexibility and good faith, but added: “My concern is that we have a Prime Minister who doesn’t have those attributes.”
Speaking on a visit to Dublin for a series of meetings before travelling to Northern Ireland, the UK opposition leader said he “cares deeply” about Anglo-Irish ties and thinks it would be a “historic low point” in recent relations between the two parties if the Government moved to legislate.
He said: “Of course, there are challenges with the protocol, but I think that we’ve faced much greater challenges than that in our shared history.”
The Government argues the protocol creates bureaucratic chaos for businesses shipping goods to the region.
The legislation, due to be published on Monday, would allow ministers to simply disapply — without EU agreement — bits of the Protocol and impose their own solutions instead.
An alarming message for Mr Johnson has been leading Brexiteers telling him not to water down the Brexit deal.
They did so after a cabinet committee rejected demands from the backbench European Research Group (ERG) to change the bill.
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Sir Bernard Jenkin, a Eurosceptic MP, said he would vote against the Government if the bill did not facilitate the “serious prospect of the restoration of power-sharing in Northern Ireland, and the restoration of the Good Friday agreement”.
The NI Protocol was designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland when the UK left the European Union in 2019.
However, it led to new goods checks at Northern Ireland sea ports on some products from Great Britain – effectively creating a new trade border in the Irish Sea.
Unionist parties — including the DUP, which is refusing to operate Stormont until its concerns are dealt with — oppose it as they say it has led to extra costs and unnecessary delays.
Mr Johnson aims to launch a new system that would create a “red change” with full EU checks and a “green channel” with only minimal checks.
It would see traders decide which channel their goods belong in when moving goods from Britain to Northern Ireland.
Goods staying in Northern Ireland would go in the “green channel”, while goods moving on to the Republic would go in the “red channel”.
Adding to the challenges that come with the Brexit-related agreement are new fears raised within Government that the UK will breach international law if it goes ahead with its plans to tear up the Protocol.