It’s a deal: On Brexit

Britain might avoid a no-deal exit, but it will have to grapple with the costs of leaving the EU

Updated - October 21, 2019 09:25 am IST

Published - October 21, 2019 12:02 am IST

Despite the euphoric reception to the fresh terms of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU agreed on Thursday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was forced to seek an extension to the October 31 exit deadline. His predicament is due in part to the arrangement, wherein Northern Ireland would be governed by EU regulation even as it legally remains within the U.K. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the Tories’ partner in Westminster, has opposed Thursday’s agreement — that it would undermine the constitutional integrity of the U.K. It is however true that the new deal would avoid a hard border in the Irish Sea, one that would have separated the north and south of the island of Ireland, thus endangering the 1998 Good Friday agreement. Moreover, Belfast would have the best of both worlds under a Johnson accord: reaping the benefits of membership of the EU and retaining its status within Great Britain. The logic behind the differential treatment that Brexit on these terms would imply for Belfast and Edinburgh could renew momentum for a second vote on Scottish independence. Meanwhile, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have demanded that the deal be put to a confirmatory referendum.

As Brexit draws near, its economic implications look all the more inescapable. A think-tank says Britons would be poorer under a Johnson deal compared to the thrice-rejected deal negotiated by his predecessor, while they would fare much better than in a no-deal. It is apt that the rebel Tories and the opposition are anxious to plug every loophole that hard-line eurosceptics can potentially exploit to crash out of the bloc on October 31. That is a threat they had held out even after legislation was passed to prevent a no-deal exit, mandating the government to seek an extension if needed. Saturday’s Letwin amendment withholds approval for Mr. Johnson’s deal until ratification of the enabling legislation. The Johnson deal still stands a chance as several MPs seem well disposed to its terms, despite DUP opposition. The time gained after Saturday’s amendment will ensure that the exit bill will be put to scrutiny.

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