On Saturday, the Letwin amendment– passed by 322 MPs to 306- forced ministers to seek an extension to the Article 50 period to 31 January 2020 under the Benn Act. Boris Johnson then sent a request to the European Council President Donald Tusk in an unsigned letter late on Saturday night. He has also sent a separate note to Tusk, in which he urged the EU not to grant an extension.
Sir Oliver Letwin said his amendment was an ‘insurance policy’ to prevent the UK ‘crashing out’ of the EU without a deal on 31 October. By proposing this amendment, Letwin has only increased the chances of a no-deal Brexit, which is ironic because this is an outcome he and so many other MPs are keen to avoid. The Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, has insisted that Britain is prepared for no-deal.
There are two ways the European Council can reject the Prime Minister’s request for a Brexit extension: an EU member state vetoes one or the Council unanimously agrees to prevent an extension. Since Matteo Salvini was ejected from the Italian Government and a left-wing coalition consisting of the Democratic Party and the Five Star Movement was formed, the UK has lost a potential ally in Italy. They could have rejected an extension if Salvini was still in power.
Politics Home reports that Gove was among three senior ministers to hold meetings with the Hungarian foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, at the beginning of the month. Szijjarto was caught leaving the Cabinet Office around the same time Boris chaired an emergency Cabinet meeting, which sparked speculation that Hungary could veto a Brexit extension for the British Prime Minister.
Even French President Emmanuel Macron, one of the most enthusiastic supporters for the European project, has stated that a delay to Britain’s EU exit is ‘in no one’s interest’, which could mean France may also veto an extension. He has also said in the past that a no-deal Brexit would be ‘Britain’s fault.’ This shows that he will attempt to punish the UK for voting to leave the EU if the opportunity emerged. Furthermore, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker refused to grant an extension after EU leaders agreed to Boris’s new deal on Thursday. A decision on the matter is not likely to be made by European leaders until a summit held as late as 29 October.
Therefore, on Tuesday MPs have no choice but to vote for Boris’s deal. It is the best chance of ensuring Britain leaves the EU on 31 October with an orderly exit. A YouGov poll shows two-thirds of Leave voters want Parliament to accept the deal.
This deal ensures Northern Ireland remains in the UK’s Customs Union and the Irish backstop has been replaced by a Northern Ireland protocol that enables Stormont’s Assembly to vote against the EU’s regulatory orbit for goods to allow its border with the Republic of Ireland to remain open. This vote will take place every four years.
On 1 January 2021, the UK can start negotiations to implement new trade deals. By this point, Donald Trump may have lost the 2020 General Election, but considering the US is one of Britain’s biggest markets, the chance of a trade deal is still there. Because Boris’s deal prevents a hard border, Nancy Pelosi cannot then argue Brexit risks damaging the Good Friday Agreement, thereby ensuring there is cross-party support in both Houses of Congress for a UK-US trade deal.
The new deal also enables Britain to decide whether it wants to abide by the EU’s regulatory power over nation states in the areas of social and environmental policy, tax, competition and state aid. Although this country will still have to pay a £33 billion divorce payment, once the UK has left the EU, Boris’s deal will take back control of this country’s money, borders and laws.
From the beginning, most MPs have done all they can to prevent a no-deal Brexit. Even with a deal, they have aimed to delay leaving the EU further by approving of the Letwin amendment. There is still a chance the deal could be voted through on Tuesday, but the possibility of no-deal remains if the European Council refuses to grant an extension. If our politicians want a deal, Boris’s is the only one they are going to get.