Rishi Sunak's Northern Ireland Brexit deal delights Conservative Party MPs

Rishi Sunak signed a breakthrough deal with the European Union on Monday. Credit: PA

This morning's newspaper headlines are a dream come true for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

"Brexit breakthrough" in the Times; "look who finally got Brexit done (and it wasn't you, Boris)" in the Independent; "has Rishi done the impossible?" in the Daily Mail.

"Rishi has worked a bl**** miracle. The agreement is 1000% better than anything the old guard could have delivered," one minister messaged me.

Even former Brexit secretary David Davis (who one cabinet minister privately suggested would probably be unhappy) told me that the PM had "played a blinder".

Another MP described the mood around parliament as "optimistic... positive... more so than a long time... genuinely".

But before Downing Street gets too excited, it is worth noting that the MP also said there were some notable absentees from the tea rooms on Monday.

The most ardent Brexiteers, in the European Research Group (ERG), were much more "guarded" in their response, they suggested. And we saw a flick of that - like former Conservative leader, Iain Duncan Smith, who asked the PM how real the Stormont brake actually was, given the extremely high threshold needed to trigger it.

Others told me privately they had big concerns. And so - the ERG - met this evening to discuss the matter. It convened its "legal panel" to scrutinise the text, including lawyers Martin Reynolds KC and Barnabas Reynolds.

One critic said they were surprised to see Mr Davis and others line up to "laud" the PM's deal in the House of Commons.

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"None of them could have read it - we were virtually handed the document on the way into the chamber," they said.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) are also looking at the detail with a fairly sceptical eye.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson sounds quite conciliatory, but there have been pretty cool responses from his party's MPs, such as Sammy Wilson, who said "we still fear it doesn’t protect our position within the United Kingdom", and Ian Paisley Jr's admission that "my gut instinct is this isn't going to cut the mustard".

And if the DUP do not return to power sharing in Stormont as a result of this it will clearly rub some of the shine off Mr Sunak's success. A functioning government in Northern Ireland has to be one of the big aims here.

That said, the ERG and DUP seem somewhat isolated at the moment, and it would be a big political risk for the DUP to remain out of power. Downing Street insists the deal will go ahead regardless.

Rishi Sunak held talks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen before the deal was agreed. Credit: PA

Meanwhile, Mr Sunak enjoyed the very warm responses of his MPs at a meeting of the 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers on Tuesday, who would have been relishing in the frontpage headlines.

For them, this moment could be critical.

And weirdly that isn't because of Brexit. Most people don't care about Brexit in anything like the way they used to (pre-pandemic and cost-of-living crisis), according to the polls.

But if the PM has a warmer response in Parliament, it could boost his confidence and that of his MPs - some of whom have been fearing electoral oblivion under his leadership. With more support in Parliament he could find himself in a stronger position to tackle ongoing strikes (with a possible deal with nurses around the corner) and deliver a Budget that goes down well.

If he has wins on health and the economy that could help Mr Sunak to turn a political corner. Something he desperately needs given the Tory's dire position in the polls right now.