U.K. And E.U. Reach New Brexit Deal, But Will It Pass Parliament.
The United Kingdom and European Union have apparently reached a new Brexit deal, but it's unclear if Boris Johnson can get it through Parliament.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced that the United Kingdom and European Union had reached a new deal on Brexit that would avert a hard, no-deal, Brexit, but it is entirely unclear if the measure can pass the British Parliament:
BRUSSELS — European and British negotiators struck a deal Thursday to split Britain from the European Union, raising the prospect that the country could be out of the bloc by the end of October.
Negotiators working through the night in Brussels agreed on a draft Thursday morning after Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed on despite lingering questions about the feuding factions in London. The agreement still needs approval by European leaders and the British Parliament.
“This deal represents a very good deal both for the E.U. and the U.K.,” Johnson said in Brussels ahead of the meeting. “Now is the moment for us to get Brexit done and then together to work on building our future partnership.”
British lawmakers passed a law requiring Johnson to ask to delay Brexit past the Oct. 31 deadline if a deal to ease the exit is not in place by Saturday.
“Where there is a will, there is a #deal – we have one! It’s a fair and balanced agreement for the EU and the UK and it is testament to our commitment to find solutions,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker wrote on Twitter.
But even as European leaders appeared to embrace the hard-fought agreement, serious doubts remained about whether Johnson could rally Parliament behind him. Already, some hardcore Brexiteers are saying they will hold out against him, the Labour Party is opposed, and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party is in rebellion.
The 10 members of that party have held outsize power over Brexit in Parliament. The Northern Ireland unionists, who are committed to serving their Protestant, pro-British, antiabortion and conservative base, were brought in to prop up the government of Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, after she lost her majority in the Parliament in 2017 elections. To support May’s government, they extracted a promise that the government spend 1 billion pounds (about $1.3 billion) in Northern Ireland.
If there is a vote on the deal in Parliament on Saturday, Johnson will face a huge showdown. Since he became prime minister, Johnson’s working majority has vanished. From one seat up, he is now 43 seats down, meaning he will need the support of other parties to get the deal approved.
“It is our view that these arrangements would not be in Northern Ireland’s long-term interests,” the Democratic Unionist Party said in a statement. “Saturday’s vote in Parliament on the proposals will only be the start of a long process to get any withdrawal agreement bill through the House of Commons.”
Nor did other parties appear eager to lend Johnson a hand. Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party, said that from what was known, the agreement reached on Thursday was an “even worse deal” than May’s. He said that the “best way to get Brexit sorted is to give the people the final say in a public vote.”
Under the deal — which focuses mostly on the split from the European Union, not on how the two sides will work together in the future — Britain would leave the European Union but would continue to apply E.U. rules until the end of 2020 in a transition period that would soften the split. E.U. and British negotiators would try to hammer out a trade deal and other elements of their future relationship in the meantime. The transition period could be extended up to two years if both sides agree.
The split would be a harder break than ever envisaged by May, Johnson’s predecessor as prime minister, with Britain potentially taking a sharply different line on trade, taxes and regulations. May’s plans would have left Britain tightly integrated.
But Northern Ireland would remain largely aligned with the bloc, at least for now, even though it is leaving the E.U. along with the rest of the United Kingdom.
Elements of the new deal crossed red lines that previous British leaders ruled out. British authorities will have to conduct customs checks in the Irish Sea for goods moving inside their own country, as Northern Ireland would remain locked into most E.U. regulations and trade rules.
But the E.U. also made significant concessions that it had previously said were impossible. After four years, Northern Ireland lawmakers would have a vote on whether they wanted to stay so closely aligned with the European Union.
The next step will be for Juncker to gain the support of the rest of the E.U. leadership, which seems likely to take place as early as today. After that, the deal will have to be approved by the European Union Parliament and by the British Parliament. Approval in the first body seems likely as long as the leadership is united in approving the deal, but things are far less certain when it comes to the British Parliament.
As we’ve already seen, getting a Brexit deal through the House of Commons is much easier said than done. It was the at the start of this year, for example, that the Commons rejected former Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal in a rebuke that was so overwhelming that Parliamentary historians said that no previous Prime Minister had suffered such a defeat in time since Parliament, rather than the Monarch, became the primary policy-making power in the United Kingdom. Several attempts on her part to renegotiate a deal that would be accepted by Parliament. While E.U. negotiators did agree to changes to the original deal, those changes were insufficient to craft a deal that could garner majority support in Parliament. This ultimately led May to step aside, which led to Boris Johnson’s ascent as leader of the Conservative Party and his ascension to Prime Minister.
Soon after becoming Prime Minister, though, Johnson ran into political trouble of his own as Parliament, including many members of his own party, made moves to block a hard no-deal Brexit at the current October 31st deadline. In response, Johnson sought and obtained Queen Elizabeth’s assent to an extended suspension of Parliament. This move was soon declared to have been illegal, though, and Parliament returned with a headful of steam that led to the passage of several laws over Johnson’s objection that effectively seeks to block a hard Brexit, thus forcing Johnson into these negotiations.
As things stand, the numbers in Parliament don’t appear to be in Johnson’s favor. While he will likely be able to get most if not all of the Conservative Party MPs to support the deal, that won’t be sufficient to get the measure passed. As a result, Johnson is going to have to count on support from other parties or Members of Parliament to get a deal through. The prospect of that happening became significantly less likely just hours after the announcement of the deal when the Democratic Unionist Party, which has been supporting the Conservatives under an agreement that has been in place since the last General Election, has already said that it cannot support the deal due to deficiencies in how it handles the issues impacting Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
Without their support, Johnson will need to look elsewhere for the votes he needs to get a majority supporting the deal. The problem is that it’s unclear where that will come from. Labour appears unlikely to be willing as a party to help Johnson out, so the best he can hope for there is that some of the pro-Brexit members might vote for the deal. Other than that, the other parties in the Commons — the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party — are both opposed to Brexit and thus unlikely sources of support. Whatever the fate of the deal, we should know as early as Saturday whether the deal will be approved. If the answer is no, then we’re either looking at a hard Brexit at the end of the month or an extension of the deadline, although Juncker apparently said today that there would be no extensions and that the Brits must accept this deal or no deal.
As they say, stay tuned because this story is moving rapidly.