Boris Johnson has confounded his critics. They said he could not get a deal, and he has got one.
We do not yet know whether he will get the deal ratified by Parliament, but the initiative now lies with him.
For his opponents had persuaded themselves, and did all they could to persuade the wider public, that what this dangerous maniac was intent on doing, and what he would do unless they chained him down, was to leave the European Union without a deal.
He has exploded that line of attack. On Saturday he will offer all those MPs who have warned against a No Deal exit the logical way of avoiding one, namely to vote for the deal he and his colleagues have negotiated.
One of Johnson’s strengths has long been his ability to mend fences after falling out with people. At his press conference yesterday afternoon with Jean-Claude Juncker, he could be seen doing this.
Harmony now reigns between them. Juncker said there was now no need for a “prolongation” of Brexit, and Johnson spoke with enthusiasm about building a partnership with the European Union.
His opponents are going to find it hard to sustain the accusation that he is a wrecker of good relations with the EU. If they are not careful, they themselves will come to be seen as the wreckers, intent on doing all they can to avoid fulfilling the decision made by the British people in the 2016 referendum.
Labour claims Johnson is planning to destroy workers’ rights and environmental protections. These are implausible charges: he is actually positioning the Conservatives to win the next general election by making more wholehearted and effectual commitments to the welfare of workers and the environment than Labour is capable of making.
And after Brexit, British voters will be the ultimate guarantors of these things. We shall be at liberty to vote for whichever party we trust to do the right thing, and to punish any party which has let us down. The name of this form of government is representative democracy.
This points to a wider truth. No one could know for sure whether Johnson would get a deal. From time to time, people would ask me, as one of his biographers, whether I expected him to do so.
My reply was not very helpful: I said that like everyone else I did not know, but his chances of reaching a deal were better than one would think if one listened to the conventional wisdom.
For there were plainly many people on both sides who were anxious that a fair compromise should be reached. And there was also quite plainly a tendency, in some quarters, to underestimate Johnson’s considerable abilities, and to write him off as a mere joy rider who wanted to drive us over a cliff.
He is, on the contrary, at least as anxious to succeed as any previous holder of his office. He understands, without needing to be told, the truth of what H.H. Asquith, Prime Minister from 1908-16, wrote in 1926:
“The office of the Prime Minister is what its holder chooses and is able to make of it.”
Johnson has the imagination to detect opportunities where others are determined to see impossibilities. He is a Tory anarchist: a man with an instinctive grasp of our long tradition of freedom, who on being told by some bureaucrat that he cannot do something, retorts, “Why not?”
Sometimes the bureaucrat is correct, and whatever it is really cannot and should not be done. But often the conventional wisdom is pitifully timid, blinkered and self-interested.
All those who said a deal could not be reached have been confounded. They can fall back on the Commons, and hope to stop the deal there.
But if they do, they had better find some pretty good reasons for doing so. Johnson has struck a blow for freedom, and the nation senses this.
Will the deal work? Only if we make work. That will require what used to be known as statesmanship, and the public will quite soon have an opportunity, in a general election, to decide who can provide it.