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Sunak hopes to capitalise on successful Brexit deal with Windsor away day

By Robyn Evans
02 March 2023
Public Affairs

By Robyn Evans

Fresh from announcing a new post-Brexit deal for Northern Ireland on Monday, Rishi Sunak will be hoping to build on the recent outbreak of unity amongst Tory MPs as he hosts an away day to discuss his party’s strategy for the upcoming general election. The gathering is taking place over today and tomorrow at the same hotel where the Prime Minister met with European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen to unveil the Windsor Framework.

Managing to avoid an expected Tory rebellion, Sunak’s agreement has been widely seen as a success, with senior Tory Brexiteers such as David Davis, Dominic Raab and Steve Baker, all of whom quit Theresa May’s government over her post-Brexit trade proposals, praising the concessions secured by the PM. In light of Monday’s announcement, government officials are reporting a change in mood amongst both government and backbenchers, with a sense of optimism within the party which has faced ongoing scandals and poor poll ratings in recent months.

The away day will see Conservative party chairman Greg Hands and political strategist Isaac Levido hold briefings on the general election, widely anticipated to be held in 2024. The Prime Minister will now be seeking to build on the momentum behind his agreement, presenting a united front and hoping to improve his party’s election chances.

Whilst Sunak and Tory MPs will be cautiously optimistic about what the deal could mean for the party at the next general election, the PM is not yet out of the woods, with the very real threat that his deal could soon unravel as parties consider the merits of the agreement in closer detail.

MPs are expected to vote on the framework in the coming weeks. Boris Johnson, silent on whether he would endorse or oppose the framework up until now, has today said he would find it “very difficult” to vote for the deal. Whilst the former PM remains an influential force on the Conservative backbenches, it seems as though the majority of Tory MPs will vote for the new deal.

It is therefore the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which looks set to be the real deal-breaker, with the party seeking its own legal advice and stating that it will not be rushed into deciding whether to back the framework. Whilst the PM has said he would not rush the DUP into taking a decision on whether to support it, it is possible the party could take weeks, or even months, before it reaches a decision.

For now at least, the landmark deal can be seen as Sunak’s first major diplomatic achievement as Prime Minister and looks set to stabilise his position and help build internal momentum within the party. Whilst presenting the narrative of having delivered on Brexit would be seen as a positive for the Conservative Party in the lead up to the next general election, the deal holds much greater weight than this.

The technicalities of the Windsor Framework are unlikely to be on most voters’ minds, but the deal demonstrates competence, unity and a move to ‘grown-up’ politics. The PM’s handling over the protocol row should now free up his time to concentrate on the five key pledges outlined in his New Year speech, and what voters see as the major issues facing the country, from concerns over the NHS to the ongoing cost of living crisis.