Dominic Cummings rarely misses a chance to start a fire, especially if Boris Johnson is available for kindling.
His latest Twitter outpouring of verbal accelerant, timed as always to generate maximum temperatures, involved claiming that Johnson did not understand the Brexit deal he agreed with the EU two years ago, and that he never intended to stick to it anyway.
There were parts of the text of the divorce accord, especially in the Northern Ireland protocol, which the government had no desire to honour, Cummings said. According to him, the plan had been to “ditch the bits we didn’t like” after winning the 2019 election.
EU politicians have jumped on Cummings’s comments as evidence that the UK is not to be trusted. Ireland’s deputy prime minister Leo Varadkar said the UK that it is a nation that “doesn’t necessarily keep its word”.
Why does this matter? The EU and the UK are back in negotiations, this time over rewriting the most troublesome parts of that Northern Ireland protocol, to enable smoother flows of food, medicine and other goods from the British mainland.
Brexit Minister Lord Frost has just submitted a draft legal text for an entirely new protocol. The EU is responding with its own proposals and there are signs that many difficult issues could be resolved. But negotiations are only just getting started, which makes it a particularly sensitive time for Cummings to strike his match.
In truth, that negotiations are now open again also means the reactions from the EU should be taken with a pinch of salt. Varadkar knows the game better than most – he was the Irish leader with whom Johnson struck the protocol deal in 2019, ending months of deadlock. Venting public outrage is a classic tactic when a deal needs to be done.
The UK has been demanding to rewrite the protocol for many months. And the EU has already tangled with Johnson’s government over allegations that it was seeking to break the Brexit deal, breaching international law, during the passage of the UK Internal Market Bill, which was a far graver threat to securing Brexit agreements than Cummings’s commentary.
These latest remarks from Cummings don’t amount to much that’s new, and shouldn’t affect the progress of the latest talks on the terms of trade for Northern Ireland. That doesn’t mean they won’t generate some headlines and a little short-term political heat.