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Boris Johnson grinned, Nigel Farage fumed... and Jean-Claude Juncker made Remainers panic

Boris Johnson and Jean-Claude Juncker
Boris Johnson met Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels to shake hands on the new Brexit deal Credit: KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images

Boris Johnson was smiling. But it was a funny sort of smile. It wasn’t wide and triumphant, a film-star flash of Oscar-night delight. Instead, it was small and subtle, a flickering grin, impish and playful, a twinkle of barely suppressed mischief. It was the smile of someone who knows a secret – an amusing secret. The smile of someone who knows something his enemies don’t.

The Prime Minister had come to Brussels to shake hands on the new Brexit deal. Now he and Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, were standing side by side, making statements to the cameras. After all those weeks of enmity from afar, the two men suddenly seemed tremendously matey. Their mood was one of blokeish back-slapping, job’s a good ’un, fancy a pint, don’t mind if I do. And throughout, Mr Johnson’s lips kept wriggling into that curious little grin.

What was it, that seemed to be amusing him so much? Was he simply remembering all those times his critics had scoffed, and told him that the EU would never reopen the Withdrawal Agreement, and yawned that he was doomed to fail? Certainly he seemed proud of what he and his team had achieved: this deal, he declared, was “a very good deal”, “an excellent deal”, “a real Brexit”. 

But Mr Johnson didn’t just look pleased – he looked tickled. And perhaps what was tickling him was a certain line by Mr Juncker. 

“We have a deal,” began the president. “And this deal means that there is no need for any kind of prolongation…”

 

Watching on TV back in London, Mr Johnson’s opponents must have been gnawing their knuckles in alarm. “No need for any kind of prolongation.” What did Mr Juncker mean? Was he merely expressing his satisfaction with the deal? Or was it a threat? A threat aimed straight at anti-Brexit MPs, warning them that, if they didn’t support the deal, a scornful EU would dismiss their pleas for more time, and they would be plunged instantly into their greatest nightmare: a no-deal Brexit? And worse than that – the blame for it, and all its consequences, would be laid entirely at their door. Because they’d had the chance to avert a no-deal Brexit – and they’d rejected it.

What a thought. What a dilemma. What a risk. Ahead of tomorrow’s decisive vote in the Commons, Mr Johnson’s opponents must now wrestle with two terrifying questions. First: was that what Mr Juncker meant? And if so: did he really mean it? 

One British politician certainly thought so – and was utterly outraged. But he wasn’t a Remainer. He was, of all people, Nigel Farage.

What Mr Juncker had said, fumed the leader of the Brexit Party, was “appalling”. By denying Britain an extension, this “unelected bureaucrat” would be “overriding the Benn Act”. 

Honestly. How dare the EU refuse to let us stay in. We voted to remain. Didn’t we?