Good morning. Rishi Sunak faces the opposition of the Democratic Unionist party and a rebellion of the party’s most Euro-hostile MPs and his most implacable critics today. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson is set to be grilled by MPs over lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street and whether he misled parliament. It’s a day of high drama but one which underlines Sunak’s internal strength among MPs. Some more on all that below.

ERG argh

The DUP will not vote for Rishi Sunak’s Brexit deal. As I’ve written before, this is entirely unsurprising:

The ultimate problem for the DUP is its handling of the Brexit affair has left it in a position where it has three options: 1) invent time travel, 2) restore power-sharing and facilitate the first Sinn Féin first minister 3) or find an excuse to mothball devolved governance in Northern Ireland.

There’s no prospect of Sunak reaching a deal that will help the DUP accomplish 1). Accepting that Sunak has reached a good deal will force them to do 2).

Surprise, surprise, the DUP has concluded that Sunak’s revamped post-Brexit trade deal for Northern Ireland is not good enough! Although Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP’s leader and a relative moderate, is widely believed to have wanted to support the Windsor framework, the DUP’s internal dynamics and the political pressures the party faces only ever pointed one way.

What’s more striking is which Conservative MPs are planning to follow the DUP into the “no” lobbies: Priti Patel, Iain Duncan Smith, Liz Truss and Johnson. This isn’t a list of the Conservative party’s biggest Eurosceptics — this is a list of Rishi Sunak’s most implacable critics. Patel and Johnson have no plausible route back to the top of the party while Sunak remains strong and in charge. Duncan Smith is a serial critic of the prime minister on everything from EU policy to China, and no one needs to be reminded of the ideological gulf between Truss and Sunak.

Johnson voting against the first part of the Windsor framework — the so-called Stormont brake, which allows Northern Ireland’s assembly to object to new EU rules being imposed — is as much a problem for him as it is for Sunak. The former prime minister is already the candidate of the party’s Brexit ultras. But what he plans to do this week will make it harder for him to become the candidate of the party’s mainstream. It is MPs in the middle of the party who hold Sunak’s fate in their hands and are being turned off by Johnson’s antics.

What really matters today is that Sunak’s gamble in bringing hardcore Eurosceptics like Steve Baker and Suella Braverman into the cabinet is working, and that his bitterest enemies are left isolated. The declared support of Labour MPs and the government payroll vote will guarantee the successful passage of the prime minister’s Brexit deal. But what makes this a good day for Sunak is that he is getting the backing of a majority of his own MPs: his vital power base.

Today’s vote is going to underline that Sunak is prime minister because he remains the unquestioned first choice of a majority of his parliamentary colleagues.

Added to that, the ongoing brouhaha over Boris Johnson and Partygate is a reminder to Conservative MPs that Sunak is the party’s best electoral asset and that to lose him is to lose everything and risk a return to the political, electoral and moral disaster that a Johnson continuation would be.

I’m not saying that the Tory party doesn’t face big obstacles in its path to re-election. This morning’s news that inflation has jumped more than forecast is just one of them. But zoom out and the big picture of this week is that Conservative MPs have finally realised that their interests are best served by working with, rather than against, Sunak, and that he will remain the unquestioned first choice of most MPs.

Whether he does anything with those advantages remains to be seen. But they are considerable strengths and ones that are being fortified rather than weakened by this week’s news.

Whatever theatrics Johnson might produce in his grilling by MPs this afternoon, that is the story that really matters today.

Now try this

Thanks for the lovely birthday messages. My best present is from my partner: tickets to see Woolf Works, a ballet based on the works of my second favourite Wolf, Virginia, with music by one of my favourite composers, Max Richter.

I have mostly been celebrating by listening to “Last Days” from Richter’s excellent record Memoryhouse, and hoping that we will one day get Wolf Works, a ballet about Martin Wolf’s columns set to compositions by Philip Glass.

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