Next 48 hours make or break for Boris Johnson’s Brexit

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has achieved something extraordinary – a new Brexit deal with the European Union (EU) struck at the very last minute. Don’t forget that the EU had said a new agreement was impossible.

Announced by Boris Johnson and European Union President Jean Claude Juncker on Thursday (UK time), the agreement was reached 15 days before the UK is scheduled to leave the 28-member bloc on 31 October.

Now this situation has been reached before. The UK population voted in a national referendum to leave the European Union on 23 June 2006 and Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May tried three times to convince her colleagues that the Brexit agreement was in the country’s interests and MPs should abide by the population’s wishes. She failed each time.

The UK Parliament will sit on Saturday (UK time), something it has not done since the Falklands War in 1982, to debate and vote on the Brexit legislation. Johnson needs to do something he has not done since becoming Prime Minister – win a vote.

“This is our chance in the UK as democrats to get Brexit done, and come out on 31 October,” a typically bullish Johnson said.

What is the new Brexit agreement

  • Theresa May’s controversial Irish backstop plan has been scrapped.
  • The whole of the UK will leave the EU customs union, allowing the UK to strike trade deals with other countries in the future. The US and Australia are two countries to have indicated they will strike free trade deals.
  • There will be a legal customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (which remains in the EU). In practice the customs border will be between Great Britain and the island of Ireland, with goods being checked at “points of entry” in Northern Ireland. Tax duties will not automatically have to be paid on goods coming into Northern Ireland from Great Britain. However, when something is “at risk” of being transported into the Republic of Ireland tax duty will be paid.

German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said the Johnson deal splits the UK from the European Union.

“At the time [under May], it wasn’t clear what the future relationship should look like, whether there would be a membership in the single market or not. Now it’s very clear that Britain’s going to be a third country and we will quickly begin negotiating a free trade agreement with that third country, Great Britain,” she said.

The numbers Johnson needs in the UK Parliament

  • There are 650 members, but seven MPs are from Sinn Fein. On principle, they never take their seats
  • The Speaker, John Bercow, and his three deputies do not vote, leaving 639 MPs who vote. Johnson needs 320 to pass the Brexit agreement
  • The Conservative Party has 288 MPs
  • There are 35 Independent MPs
  • The opposition party, Labour, has 244 MPs
  • The Democratic Unionist Party, has 10 MPs, and has voiced objection to the new agreement
  • The Scottish National Party has 35 MPs
  • The Liberal Democrats 19 MPs
  • There are 10 minor party MPs

Boris Johnson started his rule with an unprecedented string of seven defeats in a row in Parliamentary votes. Saturday’s vote is too close to call.

The Democratic Unionist Party has heavily criticised the new agreement, and without the support of their 10 MPs, Johnson will need the support of some Opposition Labour MPs and the 21 Conservatives he expelled from the parliamentary party last month.

If MPs reject Johnson’s agreement, he is legally obliged to request a delay to Brexit.

If there is an extension sought and secured, Johnson is highly likely to seek a general election.

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