Brexit Deal Reached, but Approval Remains Uncertain

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to guests at a military reception held at 10 Downing Street on Sept. 18, 2019. (Jon Nguyen/pool photo via AP)

(CN) — It’s back to a bitter, complicated and messy Brexit showdown in the House of Commons.

On Saturday, the Parliament is set to vote on whether to support a deal struck Thursday between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the European Union that would allow the United Kingdom to leave the EU in an orderly fashion on Oct. 31.

But it’s far from clear that this new deal – a reworked version of a deal shot down three times earlier this year by Parliament – will win support in a deeply divided House of Commons.

Members of Parliament already were plotting to attach a requirement that the deal, if passed, would need to be approved by U.K. voters in a second referendum.

If the deal is rejected, then there’s a remote chance the U.K. could drop out of the EU without a deal on Oct. 31. Both sides warn that would be catastrophic. More likely, the exit date would be delayed further and new elections would be called.

Under this new Brexit deal, the U.K. would leave the EU’s customs rules and single market – as favored by pro-Brexit Conservatives – but Northern Ireland would remain closely aligned to the EU.

Johnson and his pro-Brexit supporters said it was the best deal possible and would achieve their goal of “taking back control” from the EU and its bureaucrats in Brussels. Many in Britain, and particularly in England, are fed up with EU rules and laws and don’t like how Europeans immigrate in large numbers to the U.K. for work.

But a new, and complicated, arrangement in this deal to keep Northern Ireland closely aligned to the EU is once again causing problems. Keeping Northern Ireland closely tied to the EU and Ireland is seen as critical to ensuring peace in a region where sectarian tensions between Protestants and Catholics remain.

On Thursday, Northern Ireland’s pro-British and predominantly Protestant Democratic Unionist Party, a key ally for Johnson, said it will not support the deal. The party’s defiance was a blow to Johnson’s chances of getting the deal passed.

Johnson had professed his allegiance to the DUP after taking office in July and now he is depicted as betraying his allies by agreeing to this deal.

“The honeymoon is well and truly over,” wrote Suzanne Breen, a columnist for the Belfast Telegraph, a Northern Irish newspaper. “The Prime Minister spectacularly dumped the DUP today.”

Previously, it was the DUP’s stiff opposition to similar close alignment to the EU that doomed the chances of former Prime Minister Theresa May getting a deal done. The DUP’s 10 members in Parliament have been crucial for the Tories to pass legislation.

The DUP said it could not accept being so closely tied to the EU and its customs regime while also seeing their region split off from the rest of the U.K. The party said such an arrangement would hurt the region economically. The DUP is also upset at a provision that could allow Northern Ireland to become even more entwined with EU rules and regulations if a majority in the region’s legislative assembly votes to do that.

“The DUP, and their Spartan band of Tory allies, have the power to scupper the deal,” Sean O’Grady, a columnist for the Independent newspaper, wrote. “As it stands, they have little choice but to do so.”

There are other obstacles too. Johnson’s deal may not win the support of members of his own party. There are pro-Brexit members who take the DUP’s side – the so-called Spartans – and there are others who fear Johnson’s deal will both undermine the unity of the U.K. but also hurt it economically and politically by cutting ties with the EU.

Meanwhile, the opposition parties – Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party, Wales’ Plaid Cymru party and independents – are either opposed to Brexit altogether or to the kind of Brexit plans proposed by the Conservatives.

The main opposition leader, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, called the deal “even worse” than the one struck by May’s government.

“These proposals risk triggering a race to the bottom on rights and protections: putting food safety at risk, cutting environmental standards and workers’ rights, and opening up our National Health Service to a takeover by U.S. private corporations,” Corbyn said in a statement.

Labour is calling for a second referendum to give U.K. voters another say on whether and under what terms they want to leave the EU. In 2016, 52% of voters chose to take the U.K. out of the EU.

Still, Thursday was a major victory for Johnson, who had been saying for weeks that he could get a new deal done.

In a news conference, Johnson called it an “excellent deal” that would allow the U.K. to “deliver a real Brexit that achieves our objectives.” He urged Parliament to back his deal.

He said exiting the EU would allow the U.K. to decide “our future, our laws, our borders, our money and how we want to run the U.K.”

At his side, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker also praised the deal, saying it was “a fair, a balanced agreement.”

He added before stepping away from the news conference: “I’m happy about the deal, but sad about Brexit.”

By getting the EU to agree to changes to May’s deal, Johnson was vindicated. He had argued that the EU would budge and agree to reopen the deal for further negotiations, even as his critics questioned his strategy.

The Spectator, a conservative politics magazine, called Johnson’s deal “a spectacular vindication” of the prime minister’s tactics.

“When Boris Johnson declared that he would leave the EU by 31 October, it was seen as an impossibly ambitious goal. Now, it looks likely,” the editorial said.

But Johnson also has his critics on the political right.

Nigel Farage, an ardent Brexit supporter and leader of the Brexit Party, panned the deal and said it should be rejected because it keeps the U.K. bound to the EU.

“It binds us into so many other commitments on foreign policy, military policy – a list as long as your arm, and I frankly think it should be rejected,” he said.

(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)

%d bloggers like this: