Boris Johnson seems to have secured a new Brexit deal from the European Union. The EU, which was not agreeable to any change in Theresa May’s has at least indicated to replace the controversial Irish border issue (called Irish Backstop) replacing it with an alternative plan, offered up by the UK Brexit negotiators on under Boris John. However, However, even if the EU has agreed with the Boris Johnson’s alternative plan, securing the Brexit would still be facing a tough Brexit process. The UK Parliament is sitting on October 19, 2019 for the first time in decades, where lawmakers will approve or disapprove the alternative Brexit plan.The immediate fallout of that vote could have profound consequences for the future of the United Kingdom.
Against the odds and at the last minute, the United Kingdom and the European Union struck a new Brexit deal on On October 17, 2019. Speaking at a joint news conference with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters that the new withdrawal agreement “represents a very good deal for both the EU and UK” and that he hoped UK lawmakers would “come together to get Brexit done, to get this excellent deal over the line.” The latest alternative deal between the U.K and the EU has been possible after continued and hard negotiations, two weeks before the Brexit deadline of October 31.
What is the new alternative deal?
The EU and the UK made changes to both the withdrawal agreement — the divorce settlement that sets the terms of the breakup and sets up a post-Brexit transition period — and the political declaration, which lays out the prospect of the future relationship between the EU and the UK.
Change in Withdrawal Agreement
The withdrawal agreement was one of the major sticking point in the Brexit deal for the better part of the past year. The changes could be understood if one knows about the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland. The Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, as it’s technically called, is a safeguard in the Brexit withdrawal agreement to guarantee that, no matter what happens with the future EU-UK relationship, the border between Northern Ireland (which is part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (which is an EU member-state) remains free of infrastructure and physical checks on goods. This commitment was seen as vital to the peace process in Northern Ireland. That’s because that border was heavily militarized during the Troubles, the decades-long conflict in Northern Ireland between “nationalists,” who identified more closely with Ireland and sought a united Ireland, and “unionists,” who identified more closely with Britain and wanted to remain part of the UK.
After the UK voted to leave the EU in June 2016, there was an apprehension once the UK left the Brexit, the Irish border wouldn’t just separate Northern Ireland and Ireland anymore — it would be the dividing line between the EU and the UK. And since the two would have different rules and regulations for trade and commerce, there would have to be some sort of inspection stations or checkpoints established on that border. That led many to fear that a “hard” physical border would have to once again be erected, potentially refueling violence.
How to balance the two positions — the UK’s desire to leave and the need to keep the Irish border open — has been the impossible issue of Brexit. So the two sides came up with a fudge: the “backstop.” Under the plan agreed to by May and the EU last year, the entire United Kingdom would remain part of the EU customs union, which would have kept all of Britain in the same trading scheme as the EU. But this was unacceptable to Brexiteers who wanted to full break with EU rules and institutions, and so they kept voting down the deal.
The New Alternative Replacement Backstop
The New replacement backstop will keep only Northern Ireland closely aligned with the EU rules, specifically on goods. This avoids any checks on the island of Ireland, though they will still have to happen on goods moving to or from the island of Ireland from the rest of Britain. But the whole of the United Kingdom — including Northern Ireland — will get to leave the EU customs union. The arrangements are kind of complicated — for example, the UK will have to apply and collect EU tariffs if any goods going from the rest of Britain are at risk of entering Ireland, otherwise known as EU territory.
So there are clearly some things to be worked out here; but all of the UK leaving the customs union means it can negotiate independent trade deals (something that’s really important to Brexiteers). It also means Johnson can say (and maybe run an election on the fact) that he took all of the UK out of the EU customs union, a big reason many opposed the previous Brexit deal. Another addition to this version of the deal is the ability for the Northern Irish government to have a say. The Assembly in Northern Ireland will be able to vote to continue the arrangements four years after they go into effect. (That’s 2021 or 2023, depending on how long the transition lasts.) It will just need a simple majority, rather than needing the majority of unionists and nationalists, which avoids one group getting a veto.
But both the EU and the UK made concessions. The EU stayed firm on its position that safeguards needed to be in place for the Irish border, and Johnson got the UK out of the EU’s regulatory regime. Despite claims for win-win by the U.K and the EU, it seems that this is an imperfect deal. Everything else in the withdrawal bill is pretty much unchanged, and the same as what May brought back last year.
Changes in Political Declaration
There were some small changes in the Political Declaration as well. It will set the framework for future negotiations on the EU-UK relationship. While there’s still likely something for everyone to hate, the political declaration points to a future relationship built on a much harder Brexit, rather than close alignment with EU rules.
Miles to Go
It doesn’t mean Brexit is a done deal: Johnson must still get the support of UK Parliament. And that remains a tall order. It is a perplexing question whether Boris Johnson would succeeed where Theresa May failed thrice?
There is one sure lesson from his predecessor Theresa May- getting a deal between the UK and the EU isn’t the hard part – getting the British Parliament to back it is. And it is still difficult for Boris Johnson to get the new UK-EU deal approved in the Parliament. There are 650 members of Parliament, but seven of them belong to the Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party. On principle, they never take their seats. The Speaker of the Commons, John Bercow and his three deputies also don’t vote. That leaves 639 MPs who do vote, which means Johnson needs 320 – a simple majority – to get his Brexit deal through. Or to put it another way, if 320 lawmakers vote against it, it’s dead.The opposition Labour Party says they won’t back it. There are 244 Labour MPs, but a handful of them voted for Theresa May’s deal and might vote for Boris Johnson’s. Let’s figure around 240 Labour MPs will vote against – although Johnson will actually be hoping as many as two dozen will swing to his side. The Democratic Unionist Party, which props up the Conservative government, says they won’t vote for the deal. There are only 10 of them, but they’re a disciplined bunch with very clear views, so if they say they won’t vote for it, they probably won’t. That makes 250 against. The Scottish Nationalist Party, Plaid Cymru, Independent Group for Change and the one Green MP are all likely to vote against the Johnson deal – another 45 against, for a total of about 295. Then there are the Liberal Democrats, who are riding high on being the main national party that unequivocally opposes Brexit. There are 19 of them, one of whom could vote for the deal. If we assume 18 of them won’t, that’s 313 against, leaving Johnson’s deal dangerously close to defeat.
But could he corral all of the remaining lawmakers to back him so he squeaks out a 326-313 victory? Most of the Conservative Party will back the deal, as will many of the independents who were Conservatives until Johnson kicked them out of the party for voting against him in the past. The optimistic estimates put the number of current and former Conservatives in Johnson’s corner around 305. But that leaves between a dozen and two dozen votes that could go either way, even without a significant rebellion from the Conservatives who call themselves the European Research Group and are hardline Brexiteers. Boris Johnson started his premiership with an unprecedented string of seven defeats in a row in Parliamentary votes. Saturday’s vote will arguably be his most important yet. And as it stands, the result is too close to call.