Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 15 November 2019

UK PM Boris Johnson faces battle over ‘great new' Brexit deal

Brussels signs last-minute deal but huge questions remain on how it will pass Parliament

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson addresses a joint press conference with the European Commission president at a European Union summit in Brussels on October 17, 2019. AFP
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson addresses a joint press conference with the European Commission president at a European Union summit in Brussels on October 17, 2019. AFP

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK has achieved a “great new deal” on Brexit with the EU, despite doubts over its chances of being passed in the British Parliament.

The UK leader appeared buoyed and even a little bullish as he appeared alongside EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker after talks in Brussels.

"Now is the moment for us to get Brexit done and then together to work on building our future partnership, which I think can be incredibly positive both for the UK and for the EU," Mr Johnson said.

Mr Johnson called on MPs at home, including those from Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, to rally around him.

"I hope very much now, speaking of elected representatives, that my fellow MPs in Westminster do now come together to get Brexit done, to get this excellent deal over the line and deliver Brexit without any more delay,” he said.

Mr Juncker, who approached the podium with less enthusiasm, said that while he was happy a deal had been reached, he was unhappy that Britain would be leaving the EU.

He said there would be no extension to the Brexit deadline and he looked forward to forging the EU’s new relationship with Britain after October 31.

The remarks seemed to be a vote of confidence in Mr Johnson rather than a rejection of a possible future extension.

“We have concluded a deal, so there is not an argument for delay. It has to be done now,” Mr Juncker said.

But the Northern Irish party rejected the deal even before Mr Johnson and Mr Juncker, in couple of tweets, released news of their new deal to the world.

At a pre-summit briefing, a senior EU official tried to play for time.

“Expect the unexpected,” he said, adding that if a deal could be struck on Thursday it could be ratified by the EU Parliament by October 31.

Later, the DUP repeated its rejection, saying the proposals would not be “beneficial to the economic well-being of Northern Ireland and they undermine the integrity of the union”.

In a stark rebuke, the unionist party added that the deal “drives a coach and horses through the professed sanctity of the Belfast agreement”, a reference to Good Friday Peace Agreement, the 1998 landmark peace accord to end violence in Northern Ireland.

Mr Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, said that securing peace on the island of Ireland had been at the heart of the frantic days and nights of negotiations.

He said the UK and the EU had “squared the circle” when it came to Customs arrangements for Northern Ireland, effectively scrapping the backstop proposed by Mr Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May.

The new proposal, Mr Barnier said, would avoid a hard border, protect the whole of Ireland's economy and protect the integrity of the single European market, while allowing Northern Ireland to keep its Customs arrangements with the UK.

As such, procedures applicable to goods will apply on their entry to Northern Ireland and not across the island, with the UK making sure the Customs procedures are upheld.

Even before the summit ended it was clear that Mr Johnson’s next fight lay in Parliament. EU officials have regularly referred to the difficulty of reaching an agreement with the UK parliamentary numbers as they stand.

Opposition leaders for the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats have condemned the deal. Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage decried the deal, saying it meant "we will not be making our own laws in our own country".

In the Commons, MPs approved a rare Saturday sitting that could allow Mr Johnson’s deal to pass before the October 31 deadline.

But the house also approved, by a razor-thin margin, of allowing MPs a vote on the prospect of a second referendum, which could be a devastating outcome for the prime minister.

Updated: October 18, 2019 03:32 AM

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