Brexit – Boris Johnson has won a battle, now off to the war

Baskar Sundaram
Baskar Sundaram

Brexit – Boris Johnson has won a battle, now off to the war

The PM has got EU’s approval after working around NI backstop and now readies to face his own Parliament

In a dramatic turn of events, PM Boris Johnson’s tenacity has paid off as he got the EU leaders to approve his version of the Brexit deal. 

It is imperative to understand that Johnson’s deal is very identical to what Theresa May had offered and gotten approved from the EU. Experts feel that Johnson’s terms are almost 80-90% the same (word-for-word) as what Mrs. May had listed which essentially means that they still commit the UK to make a payment of c. £38 Billion to the EU. Further, the rights of EU citizens living in the UK (and vice versa) will also be preserved although the freedom of movement will end after Brexit. Home Secretary – Priti Patel has already announced that a new “points-based” immigration system would come into existence. Following Mrs. May’s footsteps, Boris Johnson has also agreed to a standstill transition period until the end of 2020 with a one-off optional extension of up to two years. This allows time for talks on the future trading relationship.

There are however some critical differences and most of them are focused around Northern Ireland (NI). Special provisions have been made for NI which would leave it in the UK customs territory but in a de facto EU customs zone. In practice, this would mean that the goods entering NI from mainland UK would not be subject to tariffs as long as they were not at the risk of entering into the Republic of Ireland. A joint EU – UK committee would be set up to decide exactly which goods the rules would apply to. Crucially, this would mean some custom checks in the Irish Sea. The arrangements are subject to a “Stormont Lock” – a consent mechanism that allows NI’s assembly to back or discard the arrangement every four years. 

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in NI has already rejected the deal saying that it puts an unacceptable customs divide between NI and the rest of the UK and the consent mechanism is only customary and does not give them enough say.

Boris Johnson also made a few more concessions to break the deadlock in the EU discussions, allowing NI to follow EU VAT rules and also allowing it to stay aligned to the bloc’s rules on goods and agriculture.

Although he has defied the odds in getting the deal through with EU leaders, experts feel that the real test would be to get it through the British Parliament. Incidentally, this is where Mrs. May had faced insurmountable resistance in three major attempts. Both the EU and UK have agreed to negotiate the trade deal on a vague promise of zero tariffs, which is again something that utterly divides the British public and its Parliament.

Mr. Johnson has his work cut out for him as MPs go to vote and another round of frantic deal-making begins.

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