Dinendra Haria/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
One of the central problems Boris Johnson’s Number 10 has right now is that the parliamentary press pack has concluded it cannot believe a word it is told. Development after development since Johnson became Prime Minister has been denied, only for it to turn out a few days later to be true. “They even lied to me about the f***ing dog,” says one veteran political journalist.
This erosion of trust – worse than anything since the New Labour spindoctor shenanigans around the Iraq War – means that when Number 10 genuinely needs to deny something, on the basis that it is not true, it is not believed. Any appeal to plausible deniability falls apart when hacks are convinced that they are being lied to, not just a little bit as usual, but on an epic scale.
It applies the other way round too. When the Johnson Number 10 has good news to tell, making progress on the Irish border backstop issue – more of this in a moment – then it isn’t likely to be believed on that either.
So it was earlier this week when Peter Foster, the respected Daily Telegraph Europe editor, published a story saying that Dominic Cummings had said the negotiation with the EU is a “sham” – a fake, designed to fool people, stall parliament, and get Britain out without a deal.
The reason this mattered so much is that the Foster report shaped the fevered conversation leading up to the dramatic rebellion and effective expulsion of 21 Tory MPs trying to stop no deal. The line from critics of the government is that there are no British government proposals on the backstop, there is no movement in Dublin or the EU, and it’s all just a delaying ruse to get the country ever closer to to leaving day. One former Tory MP Margot James cited the Foster report as justifying her vote against the government on Tuesday evening.