London: They say some people work better when up against a deadline and so it proves to be for the Prime Minister. Boris Johnson has achieved what some thought was impossible, a real deal agreed with the EU for the UK to leave in an orderly and friendly fashion on 31st October, as Johnson pledged. This is all the more of a victory as Johnson had the Damocles sword of the Benn Act hanging over the negotitiations. Who knows whether it was tactics or tricks but the Johnson dream team have delivered a deal for democracy.
The theme of the new deal is mutual respect for shared principles, values, economic and security interests; also most importantly the Revised Protocol for Ireland/Northern Ireland is faithful to the 1998 Good Friday/Belfast Peace Agreement. The obnoxious Backstop is gone, there is a firm commitment to no customs and regulatory checks or controls and related physical infrastructure at the border between Ireland (RoI) and Northern Ireland (NI).The Common Travel area is respected and NI is still part of the customs territory of the UK but will remain aligned with the EU to keep the border open, NI will remain in the EU’s regulatory regime for goods. There is an Irish Sea border between NI and Great Britain which may require checks for goods travelling from GB to NI. Crucially, NI is no longer trapped by the Backstop, in Johnson’s deal the Stormont Assembly not Brussels decide the future by consent; four years after the transition period it will be decided by the majority result of voting on whether to leave or remain in the UK’s customs territory, the DUP do not get the veto they expected and are disappointed with this element of the WA.
The importance of the single market to RoI was obvious all along, and validated when Leo Varadkar Taoiseach appeared on the podium alongside Donald Tusk, Jean Claud Juncker and Michel Barnier. Varadkar is satified with what he calls this unique deal as it respects RoI’s history and geography; his significant part in the negotiations could stand him and Fine Gael in good stead should there be an election.
The Revised Political Declaration spells out the goodwill that still exists between the UK and the EU, the talks balancing areas of cooperation and independence would begin immediatelyon 1st Novemver, with a high level convenning in June 2020 with the aim of concluding the arrangements by the end of 2020. There was a noticeable bonhomie on display between Johnson and the EU team during and after the announcements, but nothing is decided about the “Future Relationship”, only the spirit in which negotiations would be entered into, UK and EU will collaborate on some issues and compete on others, still the EU-UK FTA is a mirage but work on US-UK FTA could begin at once.
The deal is not perfect for everyone, it will cost UK £33billion and there are concerns around defence, but this is the best deal the UK is going to get; there is no hope for LibDem approval as they openly want to stop Brexit, some Labour MP’s (John Mann and others) feel honour bound to vote with the government,defying Corbyn who wants to put the deal up for a public vote.
For the first time since 3rdApril 1982,following the Faulklands invasion,parliament is sitting on Saturday 19th, both the Commons and the Lords will debate but only the Commons will vote on a motion to be confirmed only on Saturday morning.The parliamentary arithmatic will be tight, at the time of writing a small majority for the deal is predicted; the motion to sit on Saturday was passed by 287 to 275, Johnson needs 320 votes to pass the deal, there are 288 Conservatives MPs.
Johnson will use his charisma and persuasion to convince MP’s to drop partisan politics, to come together in the national interest to back his deal, and avoid asking for the dreaded extention to Article 50.
By the time this is published the motion and the outcome will be known, perhaps at last legislation to leave will begin.