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Last Updated : Oct 19, 2019 03:56 PM IST | Source: PTI

Boris Johnson in tough sales pitch to win over votes for Brexit deal

The new agreement, hailed as a major breakthrough on both sides, must now clear the crucial parliamentary hurdle in Westminster to get it over the line.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday launched an all-out sales pitch for the new Brexit agreement he has agreed with the European Union (EU) for Britain's exit from the economic bloc by the October 31 deadline.

The new agreement, hailed as a major breakthrough on both sides, must now clear the crucial parliamentary hurdle in Westminster to get it over the line.

A historic Super Saturday session of the House of Commons has been scheduled for Johnson to lay out the proposals before British lawmakers, who will then vote on it.

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As has been the scenario when his predecessor brought her version of the deal before Parliament, Johnson's numbers to see the deal through remain on a knife-edge because of a lack of majority for his Conservative Party government.

The Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which supports the Tories as part of an election pact, have declined to vote with the government on the new deal because they have branded it as damaging to Northern Ireland's interests.

And, with the party whip withdrawn from 21 Tory lawmakers who had previously voted against Johnson in the Commons, the magic winning number of 320 in a fully sitting House looks extremely precarious.

A Downing Street spokesperson indicated that Johnson and his team would spend most of Friday reaching out to Opposition Labour Party rebels who are considering going against their own party whip to vote for the new Brexit deal, as well as former disgruntled Tories who could be wavering on their vote.

If he does not manage to get the numbers needed to win a vote, then Johnson is expected to try again to trigger a general election.

Under the Benn Act, passed by MPs earlier, the UK prime minister will be compelled to ask the EU for a three-month delay to Brexit if MPs fail to approve his deal – or explicitly approve a no-deal Brexit – at Saturday's make or break session.

Even if Johnson gets to the magic number and wins approval for his deal, he would still have to formally introduce a Withdrawal Agreement Bill to put the deal into UK law. This opens up the prospect of the entire legislation not being passed by the October 31 Brexit deadline and therefore resulting in a no-deal Brexit by default.

As a result, the parliamentarians have tabled an amendment for the Commons to withhold its approval for the new Brexit agreement until all the legislation needed to implement the deal is passed, which in turn could also mean a delay to the October 31 cut-off.

Johnson's chances to meet his do or die Brexit pledge depend largely on how far he can win over Brexiteers who opposed former premier Theresa May's deal on three occasions in Parliament since last December.

“I'm very confident that when my colleagues in Parliament study this agreement, that they will want to vote for it on Saturday, and then in succeeding days,” Johnson declared in his speech soon after announcing his “great new deal” in Brussels on Thursday ahead of an EU summit.

“This is our chance in the UK as democrats to get Brexit done, and come out on October 31... Now this is the moment for our parliamentarians to come together and get this thing done,” he urged.

Many of his harshest critics have conceded that Johnson has managed to pull off what had seemed like an impossible task by getting the EU to reopen the legally binding withdrawal agreement struck by May to remove the controversial Irish backstop insurance policy.

The backstop had been put in place to ensure no hard border on the island of Ireland between EU member country Republic of Ireland and UK territory Northern Ireland post-Brexit, but many Brexiteers led by Johnson had opposed it as “anti-democratic” because it could have kept the UK tied to EU rules even after leaving the bloc.

Under the revised deal, in legal terms Northern Ireland will remain inside the UK's customs territory – but in all practical aspects it will follow EU customs rules.

Goods crossing from Britain to Northern Ireland will pay any applicable EU tariffs although there will be a mechanism to claim them back if they end up on the Northern Ireland market.

Northern Ireland will also follow all EU single market rules and regulations for goods while the rest of the UK will be free to diverge.

However, the new agreement remains contentious because the DUP believes it treats Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the UK in crucial ways, which goes against its unionist principles.

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First Published on Oct 19, 2019 03:30 pm
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