Brexit on fast-track: On passage of deal in UK Parliament

With Parliament approving the Brexit deal, U.K. is set to exit the EU on or before Jan. 31

Published - December 24, 2019 12:05 am IST

With the passage of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal in British Parliament, it is now almost certain that the country would exit the European Union (EU) on or before the current deadline — January 31. Mr. Johnson became Prime Minister after his predecessor Theresa May’s repeated attempts to get lawmakers’ support for her Brexit deal failed. Mr. Johnson first reached a new agreement with the EU and then called fresh elections. With his party’s resounding win in the parliamentary election and a surge in the number of Brexiteers among Conservative lawmakers, the passage of the Bill in the House of Commons was a mere formality. The deal got the support of 358 lawmakers against 234. The agreement deals with issues such as citizens’ rights, the settlement amount the U.K. has agreed to pay the EU and an arrangement to avoid physical barriers between the Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member. The accord will be put on vote in the House of Commons once more, and then the upper chamber, the House of Lords, will vote on it. The formalities in the U.K. are expected to be over by early January and the deal will then go to the EU Parliament. Once the EU lawmakers ratify it (which is expected on January 29), the U.K. will formally exit the union.

A formal exit, however, doesn’t mean that the tedious Brexit process is over. Even after January 31, the U.K. will continue to remain in the EU single market and customs union, at least for 11 months — this means trade will continue as usual. Mr. Johnson’s biggest challenge is to reach another agreement with the EU on the country’s future relationship with the bloc. He has ruled out extending talks beyond the December 31, 2020 deadline, which means a no-deal exit can still not be ruled out. Furthermore, Mr. Johnson faces legislative and political challenges ahead even if the current deal goes through the EU hurdle. His government has to pass a series of new legislation replacing the existing EU laws. He should also be mindful of the impact his deal may have on the delicate peace in Northern Ireland. Desperate to secure a complete break with the EU customs union while at the same avoiding a physical barrier between the two Irelands, Mr. Johnson’s deal seeks to erect a customs border between Great Britain and the island of Ireland. This has already irked the unionists and strengthened the nationalists in Northern Ireland. The uncertainty over Brexit is now over. But the uncertainty on how Brexit will happen still remains. Mr. Johnson may like to wrap up Brexit at a breakneck speed, but he should be mindful of these speed-breakers. If not, the economic and political costs of Brexit could be huge.

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