Brexit deal agreed as EU leaders endorse Boris Johnson's plan
Chalk up a big victory for Boris Johnson in Brussels: the Prime Minister got the European Union to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement that the EU said it would never renegotiate.
But as his predecessor Theresa May proved, getting a deal between the UK and the EU isn’t the hard part – getting the British Parliament to back it is.
So can Johnson pull another rabbit out of his hat?
Let’s look at the numbers.
There are 650 members of Parliament, but seven of them belong to the Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party. On principle, they never take their seats.
The Speaker of the Commons, John Bercow (you’ve heard him shouting “Order, order!”), and his three deputies also don’t vote.
That leaves 639 MPs who do vote, which means Johnson needs 320 – a simple majority – to get his Brexit deal through.
Or to put it another way, if 320 lawmakers vote against it, it’s dead.
The opposition Labour Party says they won’t back it. There are 244 Labour MPs, but a handful of them voted for Theresa May’s deal and might vote for Boris Johnson’s. Let’s figure around 240 Labour MPs will vote against – although Johnson will actually be hoping as many as two dozen will swing to his side.
The Democratic Unionist Party, which props up the Conservative government, says they won’t vote for the deal. There are only 10 of them, but they’re a disciplined bunch with very clear views, so if they say they won’t vote for it, they probably won’t.
That makes 250 against.
The Scottish Nationalist Party, Plaid Cymru, Independent Group for Change and the one Green MP are all likely to vote against the Johnson deal – another 45 against, for a total of about 295.
Then there are the Liberal Democrats, who are riding high on being the main national party that unequivocally opposes Brexit. There are 19 of them, one of whom could vote for the deal. If we assume 18 of them won’t, that’s 313 against, leaving Johnson’s deal dangerously close to defeat.
But could he corral all of the remaining lawmakers to back him so he squeaks out a 326-313 victory?
Most of the Conservative Party will back the deal, as will many of the independents who were Conservatives until Johnson kicked them out of the party for voting against him in the past. The optimistic estimates put the number of current and former Conservatives in Johnson’s corner around 305. But that leaves between a dozen and two dozen votes that could go either way, even without a significant rebellion from the Conservatives who call themselves the European Research Group and are hardline Brexiteers.
Boris Johnson started his premiership with an unprecedented string of seven defeats in a row in Parliamentary votes.
Saturday’s vote will arguably be his most important yet. And as it stands, the result is too close to call.
The SNP's Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, says the group has tabled an amendment to Boris Johnson's new Brexit deal that calls for a delay until January 31 and a snap general election to take place before then.
The amendment doesn't necessarily change much -- if the vote is lost, Boris Johnson is required by law to request a three-month extension anyway, and a general election would also likely occur in that period regardless.
Hilary Benn, the Labour MP and chair of Parliament's Brexit committee, has urged the government to release its impact assessment of Boris Johnson's Brexit deal before MPs vote on it this weekend.
"I think it is really important that colleagues have the fullest assessment available to them in order to inform their decision," Benn wrote in the letter to Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay.
Boris Johnson failed to address what he will do if his deal does not pass in Parliament on Saturday.
"There is a very good case for MPs across the House of Commons to express the democratic will of the people," he said in response to a question from the BBC at his Brussels press conference. "I don't think there is any case for delay."
But the British Prime Minister suggested that, ahead of the crucial vote at the weekend, he might welcome back to the fold some of the lawmakers he expelled from the Conservative Party last month.
"It's a big and important vote and we'll be making further announcements in due course," he said in response to a query on the matter.
Johnson booted out 21 MPs when they voted against the government over taking a no-deal Brexit off the table, reducing his majority in Parliament to about minus 40.
Boris Johnson has just been speaking to reporters in Brussels, after securing his Brexit deal with the EU. Understandably, he's very enthusiastic about it.
"I want to stress that this is a great deal for our country, for the UK. I also believe it's a very good deal for our friends in the EU," Johnson said.
"We can decide our future together, we can take back control, as the phrase goes. "We will be able to do free trade agreements around the world."
"The extraction having been done, the building now begins," Johnson says.
On the all-important issue of whether Parliament will pass he deal, he says: "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."
"This is our chance in the UK, as democrats, the get Brexit done."
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has said he has "mixed feelings" after sealing a Brexit deal with Boris Johnson's government.
"It's a little bit like an old friend that's going on a journey or an adventure without us, and we really hope it works out for them," Varadkar says. "But I think there will always be a place at the table for the United Kingdom if they ever chose to come back."
He says the customs border in the Irish sea "is a unique solution, one that recognizes the unique history and geography of Northern Ireland."
"The backstop was never intended to be used," Varadkar adds. "This solution is different, it's more likely to come into force, and possibly could become permanent" if the Northern Ireland assembly agrees to extend it.
"Our objectives as Ireland and as Europe have been met," Varadkar says, adding that he hopes "sincerely" that the British Parliament ratifies the deal, "so we can all move on to the next phase of relations."
Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, says the Brexit deal protects the rights of EU citizens in the UK and British ex-pats living in Europe.
"What we have agreed on is much more than a deal -- it's a legal text which provides legal certainty to the problems created by Brexit," Juncker says.
"The text on which we've agreed protects the rights of our citizens. Fundamentally, today's agreement applies to people and peace," he adds, noting that EU citizens in Britain "can continue to live their lives as before."
"We've always put people first in these negotiations," he says.
"We now have a new protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, which protects peace and stability ... and fully protects our single market," Juncker adds.
He also says the political declaration "provides for an ambitious free trade agreement in the future."
Echoing Tusk's words, Juncker concludes:
"I am happy, relieved that we reached a deal, but I'm sad because Brexit is happening."
European leaders are now giving a joint press conference on the new Brexit deal.
Donald Tusk, the EU Council President, says the key difference between Boris Johnson's deal and the one negotiated by Theresa May is "Johnson's acceptance to have customs checks at the point of entry to Northern Ireland."
That compromise will "avoid border checks" between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and will "ensure the integrity of the single market," Tusk says.
Agreeing a deal also "allows us to avoid chaos," he adds.
But he acknowledges that all now rests with the British and European Parliaments approving the pact. "Now, we are all waiting for the vote in both Parliaments," Tusk says.
He concludes: "On a more personal note, what I feel today is, frankly speaking, sadness."
"In my heart I will always be a Remainer," he adds.
And on a final note, a message to the UK: The EU's "door will always be open" should Britons decide in the future that they want to rejoin.
Leaders of 27 EU countries have formally endorsed the new Brexit agreement with the UK, according to a spokesman for the European Council President Donald Tusk.
A readout of the Council meeting says the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Council should now take necessary steps to ensure the agreement can come into force on November 1.
The Council's draft conclusions, seen by CNN, made no mention of whether leaders would support a potential extension should the deal fail to pass the British Parliament on Saturday.