For a leader on the back, attack may be the best form of defense.
For Boris Johnson, there is no better way to try to advance the conversation about his own political woes than to do battle with the EU.
But when the Prime Minister reveals controversial legislation over the Northern Ireland protocol that will likely unravel parts of his Brexit deal tomorrow, he will also face many of his own MPs.
Politics Hub: New legislation ‘will solve problems’ with Northern Ireland protocol
The bill is likely to be catnip for the ERG – it’s the European research group of devout Tory Brexiteers.
For others, it will cause outrage.
“It’s not just the problem itself, but the style of government that thinks it’s okay to prosecute given that it’s clearly not in the national interest, but it’s ‘appease the ERG,’ a senior Tory official said.
Briefing notes outlining the reasons for voting against the bill have already circulated among MPs critical of the plan.
Would-be rebels will have to be careful not to fall into a Downing Street trap.
As last week’s confidence vote approached, Boris Johnson was keen to confuse attempts to oust him with long-standing discontent over Brexit.
Its stalwart forerunner, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, was candid with her accusation that the vote was a “stay plot”.
Portraying the rebels as embittered Europhiles is a more appealing narrative for Number 10 than facing the reality that there are deep-seated concerns among MPs across all corners of the party.
“It’s clearly not [about Brexit]it’s about Boris’ complete unsuitability to be prime minister and the party’s relentless efforts to get shot,” a former minister said.
But turning questions about leadership into questions about Brexit moves the Prime Minister into safer territory and engages him in a fight he fully appreciates.
And that’s not the only argument the government has been caught up in over the past week.
Tomorrow will see Rwandan asylum policy back in the courtroom after a weekend where the future king was drawn into the maelstrom engulfing the controversial plan.
A bitter struggle against railway strikes also appears on the horizon with the transport secretary already spoiled for a fight by talking about “Marxist union barons blackmailing the country”.
Meanwhile, the extension of Mrs Thatcher’s ‘right to buy’ policy is likely to hurt housing associations.
And besides, the long-awaited food strategy will be officially unveiled tomorrow with a reduction in the more divisive measures on obesity and the environment.
All of this is in a way a response to Conservative MPs who have called on the government to take a more traditionally Conservative approach.
But the big prize for many backbenchers is tax cuts.
Plus, it’s clear from watching the newspapers this weekend that with the prime minister weakened, low-tax conservatives feel more emboldened.
For now, immediate changes to personal taxation are being overlooked by Downing Street and the Treasury.
But if other problems pile up for the prime minister – whether it’s losses in by-elections or party investigations – the calls will grow louder.
At this point, picking practical fights may not be enough to keep wavering deputies on his side.
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