The withdrawal agreement is unchanged.

Deal or No Deal

The Withdrawal Agreement is unchanged, so I have no need to update my comments on it which set out the problems with it, especially concerning the powers of the ECJ and the money.

The Political Declaration is improved. It now makes it clearer that any joint military actions requires the consent of the UK government. More emphasis is given to basing a future trade relationship around a Free Trade Agreement.

The Declaration whilst confirming we become an independent coastal state for fishing purposes puts our fish back into play with the prospect of a new fishing quota and access based agreement with the EU.

It suggests the future agreement is based on an EU Association Agreement, designed to get countries to converge with the EU prior to joining. This is not a good model. The ECJ remains supreme over issues of EU law in any dispute.

The reworked Northern Ireland protocol raises the issue of how could Northern Ireland extricate from following EU rules and customs practices?

This is an important question, as this draft Withdrawal Treaty does not have an Article 50 allowing unilateral exit .

Major charm offensive begins as Johnson attempts to corral a majority for his Brexit deal

By Daniel Capurro, Front Bench Editor
We have a deal. Boris Johnson has defied the odds and secured a renegotiated Withdrawal Agreement with the EU. Now he just needs to get it through Parliament.

– A qualified triumph –

Johnson hasn’t quite proved all the doubters wrong. He did it not by bludgeoning the EU into submission or redefining what was possible – instead, he made a series of concessions he said he never would and accepted that the DUP could never be reconciled to what was on offer.

The debate over whether the Benn Act handicapped the Prime Minister or forced him to accept that a no-deal Brexit wasn’t possible will have to wait for the political memoirs and the historians. But, with Johnson having come to the same conclusion as Theresa May on the DUP, we now wait to see if he faces the same fate as her in the Commons.

– On the substance –

What does the deal actually look like?

Peter Foster has a detailed breakdown of the changes here, but it matches what we’ve reported throughout the last week: a complicated and messy customs compromise in Northern Ireland that will result in a trade border down the Irish Sea, but leaves Great Britain outside of the customs union and allows Northern Ireland to benefit from any future UK trade deals.

Most importantly, the backstop is no longer a backstop. While the Northern Ireland Assembly will have to renew its consent every few years, this is now effectively permanent. There is no talk of alternative arrangements replacing it.

None of the rest of the Withdrawal Agreement has changed, however. It is entirely unamended.

– An uncertain future –

However, by getting Great Britain out of any customs arrangement, Johnson has also been able to loosen many of the provisions in the Political Declaration on the future relationship between the UK and the EU.

The result of which is that May’s path towards a very close relationship is now gone, and has been replaced by a very large blank.

While Northern Ireland’s future relationship with the EU is clearly defined, what the future holds for the rest of the UK is entirely uncertain. The transition period will run to the end of 2020, but could be extended. Beyond that, it’ll all be up to the next few years of endless Brexit negotiations to decide. (You didn’t think Brexit was over yet, did you?)

(You can read the Political Declaration here, and the rewritten parts of the Withdrawal Agreement here.)

– A simple yes or no –

All of which brings us on to the politics of the deal and whether it can pass.

There are three key groups that will decide if the deal passes or not: the Brexit hardliners, the whipless Tories and Labour rebels. A major whipping and wooing operation is already underway to win them over.

By failing to keep the DUP on board, Johnson has made life significantly harder for himself in Parliament. On their own, however, the Unionists won’t be enough. The big question is how much support they retain among the hardliners.

One DUP MP has told The Sun that they are hopeful of taking at least 15 Tories with them into the No lobby. That would be fatal to the deal’s chances. But, as Camilla Tominey writes, plenty in the ERG are acutely aware that if they block the deal now, it could be curtains for Brexit.

They could also lose the whip if they rebel.

So far, most Eurosceptic backbenchers are keeping quiet before deciding which way to vote – much to the irritation of Downing Street, which wants to create momentum.

However, in an article for The Telegraph, Martin Howe, a lawyer trusted by many in the ERG, has written that while the deal isn’t perfect it is tolerable. He fears, however, what endless rebel amendments could do to it.

– The other half of the equation –

The question of Labour MPs and whipless Tories is harder to answer. Many of the former Tories are reportedly regretting their rebellion and want a way back in, and Johnson is apparently considering it. But that’s by no means all of them.

The loosening of the Political Declaration has changed the calculation for both groups. As Jeremy Warner writes, while it is an improvement on May’s deal and should win over some Brexiteers, it also guarantees a series of future cliff edges and negotiating stand-offs. It is, for Great Britain, what Labour MPs were calling a “blind Brexit” back in March.

That will make it harder for any Labour MPs to support and possibly some of the former Tories, such as Philip Hammond, who have always insisted on a soft Brexit.

– What if it falls? –

Which brings us to the final question: what if Johnson loses when Parliament votes on the deal tomorrow?

Well, clearly it won’t be the no-deal election many had feared. Instead, there will be a clear dividing line between the Tories and the Brexit Party. With an actual deal to show to the country, returning to the electorate without having left the EU looks a lot less daunting from No10 than it did just a few days ago.

 

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