United Kingdom: Johnson wins, and loses, on Brexit
There is finally “a glimmer of light at the end of the Brexit tunnel,” said The Times in an editorial. Prime Minister Boris Johnson won a major victory this week in getting the House of Commons to vote for a withdrawal agreement negotiated with the European Union—something his predecessor, Theresa May, failed three times to do. Indeed, just hammering out a pact with the EU was an achievement. Johnson’s deal does away with May’s dreaded “Irish backstop.” That measure was intended to prevent a post-Brexit hard border between the U.K. province of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member, but would have kept the entire U.K. bound by EU regulations for years. Under Boris’ deal, only Northern Ireland will effectively stay in the EU single market; goods being shipped from the province to the U.K. mainland will undergo customs checks at ports and airports. Lawmakers with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party opposed the deal—despite being allies of Johnson’s minority Conservative government, they said the pact will damage the integrity of the U.K. But 19 opposition Labor lawmakers backed the agreement, giving Johnson 329 votes to 299, “a more comfortable majority than many had expected.”
Still, “it’s not over,” said Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian. Lawmakers refused to adopt Johnson’s breakneck timetable for approving the legislation that will make Brexit happen, so we won’t be leaving the EU on Oct. 31 as Boris had pledged. Racing to meet that deadline, Johnson wanted Parliament to “cram line-by-line scrutiny of a 110-page bill” into 48 hours. It was too big an ask. And “don’t fall for the hype that says that Parliament approved Johnson’s deal. It did not.” Lawmakers voted only for it to receive a second reading, and some are “motivated by the desire not to endorse it but to amend it.” After scrutinizing the plan, they may yet reject it or add a rider that requires the deal be put to a public referendum before taking effect.
Now that it’s clear the Halloween deadline can’t be met, the EU will likely grant a three-month Brexit extension, said Gordon Rayner and Anna Mikhailova in The Daily Telegraph. Johnson wants just 10 extra days to get his Brexit legislation through Parliament, and he has been phoning EU leaders to ask for that. But the prime minister was required by U.K. law to request three months, and the EU does not want to “be seen as interfering in British party politics,” so Brussels will give him until Jan. 31.
That means we could be “heading for a December election,” said Patrick Maguire in NewStatesman.com. The Conservatives think this week’s vote will give them “a dynamite pitch to the electorate,” and they have a clear lead in the polls. “This really is the end,” said Janet Daley in The Daily Telegraph. Parliament can either approve this deal now or Johnson will have the mandate to push it through after an election. Our “grotesque stalemate” will soon be settled once and for all. ■