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And he suggested any perception Mr Johnson was mishandling the Dominic Cummings situation was likely to undermine his authority in other areas. With the third round of talks aimed at thrashing out a post-Brexit trade deal due to begin in Brussels next week, the restrictions put in place as a result of social distancing requirements have added an extra complication.
In a reply to opposition MPs, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier stressed he “remained open” to the idea of a two-year extension in a clear indication the bloc is in no hurry to get things wrapped up prior to December 31.
However Sir John, Professor of Politics at the University of Strathclyde, told Express.co.uk Mr Johnson’s supporters would take a dim view of any further delay.
He said: “This is an area where at the moment at least the Government is on stronger ground.
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“It is true that a majority of people want the transition to be extended.
“It is true that if you ask people the question ‘Should we extend the transition because of coronavirus’, it depends on the poll but Leave voters end up being split.
“On the other hand, if you simply ask people ‘Should we extend’ without referring back to coronavirus etc, then the polling tends to suggest that a clear majority of Leave voters and Conservative voters think we should not extend.
“They are not quite as firm in that view as Remain voters are that we should extend but Remain voters would say that anyway.
“So actually it would still be quite difficult for the Government to delay the transition period.
“It’s not what the public in general thinks – it’s what Leave voters and Tories think.”
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Sir John also suggested the Prime Minister’s handling of the controversy surround chief adviser Dominic Cummings’ 260-mile trip to Durham at the height of the lockdown would shape public opinion.
He explained: “This is where the calculation kicks in.
“If Leave voters have begun to doubt the Prime Minister on Cummings, is there a risk that will undermine their evaluation of the Government on Brexit?
“The numbers have turned a little bit more negative but not enough to make any headlines.
“The risk is if you lose your authority with a significant section of the Leave electorate then your ability to pursue your Brexit strategy could also be undermined.
“Once they doubt you on one issue, there is a risk that they will doubt you on others.”
Speaking yesterday, David Frost, the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, reiterated his point that the UK would not extend the transition period beyond the end of the year.
Earlier this week, Robert Oulds, director of the Bruges Group, told Express.co.uk: “People voted in the referendum to leave, they voted in 2017 for parties that promised to leave, and elected a Government with a handsome majority in 2019 to take this up fully.
“It’s what the British people want.
“Britain has to be absolutely resolute in this.”
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