February 21. 2024. 6:26

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Cleaning up after Johnson

In this edition, we look at Boris Johnson’s reaction to the agreement to replace the controversial Northern Ireland protocol brokered by his successor, Rishi Sunak, this week.

Editor’s Take: Cleaning up after Johnson

“It’s all my fault”, is not a phrase that regularly passes Boris Johnson’s lips, especially when it comes to anything Brexit related.

The remark about the Northern Ireland protocol – made as a jokey aside during a speech in London on Thursday – hit the nail on the head. The protocol was a botched job from the start, causing a constitutional crisis and major headaches for businesses in Northern Ireland. This was compounded by the refusal of Johnson and his Brexit minister David Frost to be straight about the bureaucratic checks that would be imposed on firms.

Since his ousting in June – and particularly the removal in October of his immediate successor Liz Truss – Johnson and his allies have positioned him as a ‘prince across the water’. With the Conservatives under Prime Minister Rishi Sunak polling between 15 and 20 points behind Labour, some are holding a candle for Johnson to return later this year if the numbers don’t improve.

But that campaign was almost certainly ended this week by Rishi Sunak’s agreement with the EU, known as the ‘Windsor Framework’.

With the backing of most of his Conservative party and the promise of votes from the Labour and Scottish National parties, Sunak already has the votes to get it passed into law though if the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland withholds its support, the Windsor Framework will only be a stop gap rather than a permanent solution.

Even so, the agreement marks a line in the sand; an end to ‘chucking stones at each other’, as one official put it. European Commission Ursula von der Leyen repeatedly stressed her trust in “dear Rishi” that did not exist with Johnson or Truss.

The deal won’t be ratified for several months but it is realistic to guess that, for example, the European Commission will quickly confirm the UK association status in the Horizon Europe programme allowing UK researchers and universities to be tapping funding by summer.

Needless to say, Johnson is hedging his own bets about whether to support Sunak’s deal.

“I’m going to find it very difficult to vote for something like this myself, because I believed we should’ve done something very different. No matter how much plaster came off the ceiling in Brussels,” he said.

Sunak’s deal “is not about the UK taking back control”, he added.

While Sunak cleans up the mess left by his predecessor, Johnson is now cashing in on his celebrity status on the international lecture circuit where he can pocket a six figure sum for an hour’s work, while also positioning himself for, he hopes, a big international job.

His allies – of which there are still some in the Conservative party and media – have touted Johnson as the next secretary general of NATO, still apparently oblivious of the contempt in which he is held by most of the UK’s international partners.

Asking his audience on Thursday if they thought Brexit was a good thing, Johnson was met with silence and barely any raised hands. It was a telling moment.

Who’s electioneering

Estonians head to the polls. Estonians will vote on Sunday to elect 101 seats of their parliament, together with the new Prime Minister. The current PM Kaja Kallas from the centre-right Reform party, is heading the polls with 29.1%, according to Europe Elects. The Conservatives are at 19.3% while the Christian Democrats, Isamaa, and the socialist, respectively, are polling 8.6% and 8.2%.

Nigeria: Opposition accuses Tinubu over “rigged elections”. Presidential elections in Africa’s largest country are set to be challenged in court after Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress party was on Wednesday declared the winner.

Tinubu received close to 8.8 million votes – about 36.6% of the total, according to Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman Mahmood Yakubu – on a mere 29% turnout. That was still enough to give him a narrow victory over Atiku Abubakar of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and Peter Obi, who took over 25% of the poll from a near-standing start and a fraction of the financial resources available to his rivals, gaining popularity among young people with his lesser-known Labour Party.

“We won this election as Labour Party; we are going to claim our mandate as Labour Party,” said Datti-Baba Ahmad, the party’s Vice Presidential candidate. Obi is yet to comment on the official results. However, Ndi Kato, Labour Party’s presidential campaign spokesperson, told CNN that “we are defiant. The elections were rigged,” with the PDP and Labour likely to base their legal challenge on allegations of vote stuffing and tampering with the electoral commission’s tabulation system.

Regardless of whether Tinubu’s election is upheld, Obi’s breakthrough points to a major shake-up in Nigerian politics.


Bulgaria denies citizenship to Spanish-born child with two mothers. The Bulgarian Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) has decided that Sara, born in Spain and raised by two mothers, does not have the right to receive a Bulgarian birth certificate and citizenship.

Greek PM blames ‘tragic human error’ for train collision. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Wednesday that a “tragic human error” was probably responsible for a train collision that left at least 38 dead in the country’s worst rail tragedy.

Frontex warned Italy of ‘large number of people’ before shipwreck. The Italian authorities disregarded warnings from the EU border and coast agency Frontex, based on reconnaissance signals, that a ship which eventually sank off its coast might be carrying a large number of people, a source from Frontex told EURACTIV.

Finnish parliament passes NATO bill with a large majority. Finland’s parliament on Wednesday overwhelmingly backed its bid to join NATO, with Helsinki’s eyes now turning to alliance members Hungary and Turkey to ratify its accession.

Macron approves vaccination campaign against HPV in middle schools. The launch of a generalised vaccination campaign against human papillomavirus (HPV) in middle schools from 5th grade will start in September, President Emmanuel Macron announced on Tuesday.

Austria, Morocco agree to cooperate more on irregular migration. Austria and Morocco agreed to cooperate better in the fight against irregular migration, by focusing on smugglers and rapid repatriation, according to an agreement between Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer and his Moroccan counterpart Aziz Akhannouchs as part of Nehammer’s three-day state visit that started on Monday.

Inside the institutions

Europe’s top prosecutor sets sights on Russia sanctions-busters. Europe’s chief prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi is already investigating fraud that allegedly cost EU taxpayers €14 billion — now she wants to go after the smugglers undermining sanctions against Russia.

What to expect from the EU’s Cyber Solidarity Act. The legislative initiative appeared on Tuesday in the updated version of the European Commission’s work programme but has been in the making for one year. Here is what to expect.

Eleven EU countries launch alliance for nuclear power in Europe. Eleven European countries committed on Tuesday to “cooperate more closely” across the entire nuclear supply chain and promote “common industrial projects” in new generation capacity as well as new technologies like small reactors.

EU negotiators agree on rules defining European green bonds. The European Parliament and member states reached an agreement on Tuesday to establish requirements for a European green bond standard, to prevent financial greenwashing.

China pushes back as all main EU institutions ban TikTok on work phones. A week after EURACTIV revealed that the European Commission prohibited its employees from having TikTok on smartphones used for work, the ban extended to other EU institutions, prompting an angry reaction from Beijing.

COVID committee report faces criticisms on intellectual property. EU lawmakers shared an overall positive view of the final draft report of the European Parliament‘s special committee on COVID-19 (COVI) but some of them voiced criticism over the part on intellectual property rights and the social impact of the pandemic.

What we are reading

Brexit will endure after Sunak’s deal, but Brexitism is dying, and Johnsonism may be dead, writes Rafael Behr from The Guardian.

Catalan film screening spotlights Brussels language hypocrisy, writes Luke James for the EU Observer.

They are just kids and are being sent to Russia from Ukraine, writes the Editorial Board of the Washington Post.

The next week in politics

Busy week at the Council: Ministers will gather for an Education Council on Tuesday, followed by informal meetings of defence ministers on Tuesday and Wednesday, of development ministers on Wednesday and Thursday, and Justice and Home Affairs and trade ministers on Thursday and Friday.

European Parliament week for committees and groups. Parliament’s legislative committees and political groups will gather in Brussels for their monthly meetings.

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