Ditch backstop or face no-deal exit: Boris to EU

The backstop seeks to divide the U.K, says the new British PM; urges Europe to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement

July 27, 2019 10:31 pm | Updated July 28, 2019 10:49 am IST

Boris Johnson. File

Boris Johnson. File

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson cautioned the EU on Saturday that the “anti-democratic” Irish backstop must be ditched if they were to strike a Brexit divorce deal.

Mr. Johnson, since taking office on Wednesday, has repeatedly said that if the EU continues to refuse to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement agreed by his predecessor Theresa May, then he will take Britain out on October 31 without a deal.

His biggest demand is that the most hotly-contested element of the Brexit divorce agreement, the Irish border backstop, be struck out of the Withdrawal Agreement, a demand that has angered Ireland and perturbed other EU capitals. “If we get rid of the backstop, whole and entire, then we are making a lot of progress,” Mr. Johnson said, when asked if it was only the Irish border backstop that he wanted changed.

Speaking before a Stephenson’s Rocket, a 19th century steam locomotive, in the northern England city of Manchester, Mr. Johnson dedicated most of his speech to improving public services, transport and the Internet and driving up economic growth.

“Our post-industrial towns have a proud, great heritage but an even greater future. Their best years lie ahead of them,” he said, announcing new long-term rail links and promising immediate improvements to bus services.

That message, aimed at what Mr. Johnson called “left behind” towns, is seen as the early stages of an election campaign, even though Britain is not due a parliamentary election until 2022 and Mr. Johnson is adamant he will not hold one before Brexit.

His Conservative Party does not have a majority in Parliament, is divided over how to deliver Brexit and under threat of a no-confidence vote when Parliament returns in September.

European leaders are prepared to talk with Britain’s new leader over Brexit but have so far insisted they will not reopen the Withdrawal Agreement. Many EU diplomats think the U.K. will hold a snap election soon.

Boris's Brexit bets

These are the possible scenarios for Britain under its new arch-Brexiteer Prime Minister Boris Johnson as the country races to meet an October 31 deadline

I) Brexit with a deal

Johnson has vowed to renegotiate the deal that predecessor Theresa May deal struck with the EU. He says he will withhold Britain's divorce payments as a bargaining chip to try to get rid of the agreement's so-called 'backstop clause'

However, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier called the demand “unacceptable”

II) No-deal Brexit

Johnson has promised that he will take the country out of the EU, with or without a deal, on October 31. However, most MPs, including from his own party, are opposed to such an arrangement. The U.K. Parliament has, at least twice, voted against a no-deal departure

Johnson's push for a no-deal exit could cause Mps to bring a no-confidence motion against him when they meet in September

III) Snap election

An election could be called either by Parliament or by Johnson himself. The minimum duration between a successful vote of no confidence and holding an election is 51 days. This means MPs would have to act in the first week back from recess if they want to bring in a new government

Alternatively, Johnson could himself seek to take advantage of a weak opposition and call a vote

IV) Proroguing Parliament:

Most Conservative MPs are opposed to a no-deal exit, but they don't want a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn either. Hence, many of them may be open to a no-confidence motion against Johnson's government. To combat that threat, he has not ruled out the controversial option of 'proroguing' Parliament

a) What happens when Parliament is prorogued?

All legislative business stops and no debates or votes are held in the House

b) Can a Prime Minister prorogue the House

The power is with the Queen, who can act on the advice of the Prime Minister. So, Johnson can ask the Queen to temporarily shut Parliament to pre-empt a vote of no-confidence. However, such a move could face a legal challenge

V) Second referendum

Johnson could also call another referendum to establish a mandate for leaving without a deal, but he is opposed to such a vote

Face the fact

Mr. Johnson, who discussed Brexit with U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday, brushed aside those concerns. “My friends, I do not want a no-deal Brexit, that is not where we’re aiming, but we have to face the fact that at the moment we’re being told, as we have been told for the last three year ‘rien ne va plus’ — ‘the deal is fixed’ — and can’t be changed. I doubt that,” he said.

Nevertheless, investors fear a no-deal exit would send shock waves through global markets and hurt the world’s economy.

Ireland is crucial to any Brexit solution.

The backstop is an insurance policy designed to prevent the return of border controls along the 500-km land border between Ireland and Britain's province of Northern Ireland that were ended by the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the question of the unification of Ireland and Northern Ireland would inevitably arise if Britain leaves the EU without a divorce deal on October 31.

“The approach of the U.K. government is not going to be disengaged or aloof or waiting for them to come to us: we are going to try to solve this problem and we are going to do it in a spirit of friendship and cooperation,” Mr. Johnson said.

‘Anti-democratic’

“But we can’t do it as long as that anti-democratic backstop, that backstop that seeks to divide our country, divide the U.K., remains in place,” he said. “We need to get it out and then we can make progress, I think.”

The Withdrawal Agreement that Ms. May struck in November with the EU says the U.K. will remain in a customs union “unless and until” alternative arrangements are found to avoid a hard border.

Many British lawmakers oppose the prospect of being bound to EU rules and customs duties that would prevent Britain doing its own trade deals and leave it overseen by EU judges.

What is the Irish backstop?

It is a device intended to ensure there will not be a hard border betweenNorthern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. If there is no satisfactory arrangement between the U.K. and the EU on trade and other vital matters, Northern Ireland will stay in the EU customs union and much of the single market, guaranteeing a friction-free border with the Republic

The EU has ruled out a renegotiation of the first treaty but is open to modifications in the second document after Brexit materialises

How Parliament voted?

Prime Minister Theresa May's Withdrawal Agreement has been voted down thrice in Parliament so far. However, a majority of MPs have also voted twice against leaving the EU without a deal

I) First parliamentary vote: January 15:

For the deal: 202/635

Against the deal: 432/635

Abstention: 1

Margin of defeat: 230 votes

II) Second parliamentary vote: March 12

For the deal: 242/634

Against the deal: 391/634

Abstention: 1

Margin of defeat: 149 votes

II I ) Third parliamentary vote: March 29

(The political declaration was removed and only the first document was put to vote)

For the deal: 286/634

Against the deal: 344/634

Abstentions: 4

Margin of defeat: 58 votes

 

a) Votes on no-deal Brexit

March 13: A motion passed in February mandated the government to seek a vote on no-deal Brexit if it was defeated in the second meaningful vote. Ahead of the original Brexit date of March 29, Mps voted against a no-deal Brexit by a margin of four

For a no-deal Brexit: 308

Against a no-deal Brexit: 312

b) Indicative vote on no-deal Brexit:

March 27: A no-deal scenario was again rejected by Parliament in one of the eight indicative votes that took place

For a no-deal Brexit: 160

Against a no-deal Brexit: 400

Abstentions: 74

Margin: 240

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