Johnson in race to win MPs’ support for Brexit deal

Johnson in race to win MPs’ support for Brexit deal

Additional reporting by Daniel McConnell

British prime minister Boris Johnson has just 24 hours to win enough MP support to drag the Brexit deal over the line — or face the prospect of the DUP tearing up the agreement just as it has been reached.

The situation will take centre stage today after EU leaders privately did not rule out another Brexit extension and as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Irish Examiner that no-deal planning will “stay on the Cabinet agenda for next Tuesday”.

Yesterday, Mr Varadkar, Mr Johnson, and EU leaders revealed that a long-sought deal had been struck that may end the Brexit saga.

Despite fears an agreement would not be reached in time for the EU leaders’ summit in Brussels yesterday and today, after the DUP refused to back a deal, both the EU and Britain confirmed a breakthrough had been made.

  • The deal involves:

  • A de facto hard Brexit for Britain and soft Brexit for the North, with the latter leaving with the rest of the UK but continuing to implement EU customs rules;
  • An EU customs border in the Irish Sea instead of any border between the Republic and the North;
  • A “consent clause” which replaces the backstop and will see Stormont decide on whether to continue the deal every four years. This will take place as part of a majority vote to avoid a DUP veto;
  • This vote will take place four years after a transition period which will end either late next year or in late 2022, meaning the first Stormont vote would not take place until 2024 or 2026;
  • An agreement that if at least 40% of both unionist and nationalist MLAs back the continuation of the deal in 2024 or 2026, another vote would not occur for eight years;
  • A resolution of Northern Irish customs Vat issues, with negotiators agreeing exemptions for personal goods and other items.

European Council president Donald Tusk said last night that “we look very close to the final stretch” and that the deal “avoids chaos”.

Mr Varadkar told the Irish Examiner he is “glad we’ve got to this point; compromises had to be made but all our objectives have been met”.

“I think [German chancellor Angela] Merkel was crucial though,” he said.

She was the ‘bad cop’ who told them EU would agree nothing without the Irish.

Underlining that a deal still has to pass the House of Commons tomorrow Mr Tusk said the Brexit “punchline” will be at the weekend.

Mr Varadkar said: “We need to be cautious [as] both the House of Commons and European Parliament have yet to have their say. No-deal planning [will] stay on the Cabinet agenda for next Tuesday.”

With a deal agreed, all eyes will now turn to tomorrow’s House of Commons vote, with Mr Johnson avoiding a question in Brussels last night on whether he has enough support. It comes as DUP leader Arlene Foster warned that it will oppose the deal. It was unclear if hardline Brexiteers will continue to back the DUP, with pressure growing to definitively resolve Brexit.

Should the deal survive the House of Commons vote, it will be put to the European Parliament in Strasbourg next week, with the UK leaving on October 31. If it falls at the Westminster hurdle, an emergency EU summit will likely take place next week with renewed Brexit extension talk.

Mr Tusk said last night that “if a request for an extension is made, I will consult EU members for a response”. European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker had warned “it has to be done now”.

Sources confirmed to the Irish Examiner yesterday that EU leaders have specifically not ruled out a Brexit extension. A source said while nobody is privately saying they are not open to it, “it has to be for a real reason, no deal or election, but how long can you keep doing that?”

What next for Boris Johnson?

■ Get sign-off from the EU27 The power brokers in the EU are always the member state leaders who make up the European Council. They will need to give the deal the green light.

■ Secure UK parliament’s backing Prime minister Boris Johnson needs to work the numbers ahead of the crucial vote in the House of Commons tomorrow. The odds are stacked against him with the DUP, Labour, Nigel Farage, and hardline Tory Eurosceptics warning that they will vote against the deal.

■ Fend off bids for a second referendum There is growing talk of “super Saturday” where MPs vote on both the deal and whether to subject it to a second referendum.

■ Pass all Brexit legislation Should Johnson secure his vote, attention will turn to passing legislation to make Britain’s EU withdrawal legally enforceable.

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