Brexit deal agreed as EU leaders endorse Boris Johnson’s plan

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) shakes hands with President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker as they prepare to address a press conference at a European Union Summit at European Union Headquarters in Brussels on October 17, 2019. (Photo by Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP) (Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson to MPs: Come together and get Brexit done
01:20 - Source: CNN

What we covered here

  • What’s happening with Brexit: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker both announced Thursday morning that agreement had been reached between the UK and EU on a new withdrawal deal.
  • Key summit kicks off: Johnson has arrived in Brussels for a two-day summit with EU leaders.
  • It doesn’t mean Brexit is a done deal: Johnson must still get the support of UK Parliament. And that remains a tall order.
  • Pound drops: The British pound spiked shortly after a plan was announced, but has since fallen back as initial optimism over a Brexit deal fades.
40 Posts

We're wrapping up our live coverage

Boris Johnson will return to London with a Brexit deal few thought he could secure. But now, the hard work begins – as the Prime Minister works to convince lawmakers to get it over the line in Parliament.

We’ll find out on Saturday whether he’s able to do so, as MPs sit for a bumper session.

But now, as EU leaders settle down for dinner, we’re winding down our live coverage the end of an eventful day.

Sauerkraut and veal on the menu for EU leaders

Boris Johnson and the 27 remaining EU leaders are currently tucking into a well-earned dinner of scallops, sauerkraut soup and roast veal, after a long day of Brexit negotiations.

Here’s the full menu:

First starter: Scallops with potimarron pumpkin mousseline

Second starter: Polish sauerkraut soup

Main: Roast veal in a tonka bean sauce with green beans and fondant potato

Dessert: Figs in puff pastry

Can Boris Johnson succeed where Theresa May failed three times?

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. 

SNP pushes for Brexit delay and general election

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.

Benn asks government to publish impact assessment before vote

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.

Johnson hints at bringing back expelled MPs before Saturday's big vote

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 is "very confident" his deal will pass the UK Parliament

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.”

Varadkar wants the UK Parliament to pass the deal so the EU can "move on"

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.”

Deal allows for ambitious free trade agreement, Juncker says

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:

EU says to Britain: We'll have you back if you change your mind

From left: EU negotiator Michel Barnier, Irish PM Leo Varadkar, EU Council President Donald Tusk, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker

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.

BREAKING: EU leaders endorse new Brexit deal

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.

Labour says Johnson's deal is worse than May's

Keir Starmer, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, has posted a lengthy thread on Twitter giving his reaction to Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal.

He is predictably critical of the pact, saying it is “far worse deal than Theresa May’s deal.”

Starmer adds that the “political direction of travel under Johnson is to a distant economic relationship with the EU.”

“This inevitably means there will be new trade barriers with the EU and additional checks at borders. The PD (Political Declaration) is explicit about this. And the Johnson deal makes it easier for a Tory Government to cut rights and standards,” he goes on.

Then, Starmer indicates that the Labour Party could be open to attaching a second referendum onto Johnson’s deal when it faces a vote in Parliament on Saturday.

This is a crucial point, because while Labour’s leader Jeremy Corbyn backs a second referendum on a Brexit deal, he hasn’t confirmed today whether the party will be supporting such an amendment on Johnson’s deal this weekend, should it be tabled.

But Starmer’s final tweet suggests that some in the party’s leadership could indeed stomach a “Johnson’s deal vs Remain” referendum.

Merkel and Macron are feeling optimistic

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives at the EU Council summit in Brussels. Source: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron appeared in high spirits on arriving at the EU Council summit in Brussels Thursday.

As well they might. After months of negotiations, EU and UK teams have now agreed on a withdrawal plan.

“It is good news,” Merkel told reporters. “We have managed to negotiate a deal under very difficult circumstances to retain the unity of the single market and also to see the Irish PM satisfied.”

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks to reporters. Source: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images

Merkel and her counterpart Macron were upbeat about the deal’s prospects of succeeding in the European and British parliaments.

“Now we need to get through following stages, we need to stay prudent,” Macron told reporters. “We are satisfied that negotiations have yielded a positive outcome. Our negotiators defended our red lines and our willingness to protect the single market.”

Macron added that it was now up to Boris Johnson to pass the deal through Westminster. “We have a good indication that he’s reasonably optimistic about that,” he said. 

It looks like the hardline Brexiteers are on side

What of the European Research Group, that bloc of hardline Euroskeptics in the UK House of Commons who resolutely opposed Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, but whose support Boris Johnson now needs if he is to pass his new Brexit deal on Saturday?

Previously, the ERG tended to take its cues from the Democratic Unionist Party, which earlier today said it would vote against the deal. But Johnson’s team in Downing Street has been assiduously courting the ERG, and appears to have prised them away from the DUP.

Steve Baker, leader of the ERG, wrote just now on Twitter that while the group had “limited remaining concerns,” if they are dealt with, it will support the subsequent legislation required to implement the deal.

Irish PM will recommend that EU endorse draft deal

An agreed Brexit plan is on the table. But there’s still some way to go before it becomes a signed-off deal.

In Northern Ireland, politicians in the small but influential Democratic Unionist Party are deeply unhappy with the deal, because it envisages different economic arrangements for the region than the rest of the UK.

It’s a different story on the sothern side of the border, where Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has urged EU lawmakers to get behind the plan. He told reporters as he arrived at the EU summit:

“I think it’s a good agreement. It allows the United Kingdom to leave the European Union in an orderly fashion.”
“It creates a unique solution for Northern Ireland, recognizing the unique history and geography of Northern Ireland.”
“And ensures that there is no hard border between north and south, one that allows the all-Ireland economy to continue to develop, and one which protects the European single market and our place in it.”

Your Brexit questions answered live on Facebook

The UK has until midnight on Saturday to pass a Brexit deal or it will crash out of Europe 12 days later, on October 31.

Our reporters are live in Brussels. What questions do you have for them?

Follow the link here:

Pound falls back as Brexit optimism fades

Well that was short lived.

The pound’s early rally against the dollar has petered out as initial optimism over a Brexit deal fades.

Earlier today it had jumped 1% as news of a Brexit deal emerged. Investors are concerned that the deal will struggle to be approved in the UK Parliament.

As Brexit negotiations looked set for a breakthrough earlier this week, the pound in turn also enjoyed a strong showing.

Over the last seven days it rose from $1.22 to a high of $1.29.

No more Brexit extensions, says Juncker. But it's not his decision to make

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, has been telling reporters that there should be no extension to the Brexit process beyond October 31.

“We have a deal. There is no need for any kind of prolongation.This is a fair and balanced agreement and a testament to our commitment to find solutions,” he told.

Why that’s important: When Prime Minister Boris Johnson tries to persuade lawmakers to back his Brexit deal on Saturday, it’s very helpful indeed if he can paint the choice as being one between leaving on October 31 with a deal, or crashing out without one. UK lawmakers thought they’d prevented a no-deal Brexit by passing legislation that forces Johnson to ask for an extension by Saturday October 19 if a Brexit deal wasn’t agreed. But if they think the EU might turn down any request for an extension, that could concentrate minds.

But, but, but: The question of an extension is not within Juncker’s gift. Only leaders of the 27 remaining EU countries can decide that. And Juncker was very careful in his choice of words – he said there was “no need” for an extension, which is not quite the same thing as saying the EU would reject a request for an extension if one was forthcoming.

Johnson and Juncker say it's time to get the deal "over the line"

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker praised their agreed withdrawal deal on Thursday, urging parliaments on both sides of the Channel to help get it over the line.

Johnson said:

Now that the deal has been drafted it will be down to lawmakers in Westminster and Brussels to have the final say.

“This deal provides certainty, where Brexit creates uncertainty,” said Juncker. He added that “the deal is not about us – the deal is about people and peace.”

If the deal is approved by October 31, both sides will start work on it’s implementation the following day on November 1, “without interruption.” said Juncker.

The leaders had warm words for each other, Juncker thanking Johnson for his “excellent relations.” And Johnson said: “We are solid European, neighbors, friends and supporters.”

The brief statement was followed by a flurry of questions from reporters – none of them addressed – before Juncker held up his hands and offered his final thought.

BREAKING: Parliament votes to sit on Saturday

Lawmakers in the House of Commons have just voted to hold a rare Saturday sitting. It would be only the third time the Commons has sat on a Saturday since World War II. It is likely to be a rollercoaster session as Prime Minister Boris Johnson battles for every vote in an attempt to secure Parliament’s backing for his Brexit deal.

Nigel Farage doesn't like the new Brexit deal

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage has said the new deal agreed by the United Kingdom and the European Union on Thursday does not amount to a proper Brexit.

Farage, one of the most prominent campaigners for the “Leave” camp, has warned that the UK will never fully break free from the EU if UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s deal is approved.

Farage never supported Theresa May’s Brexit deal, but he was much happier when Johnson looked like he might be prepared to take the UK out of the European Union without a deal. Fortunately for Johnson, Farage’s party has no lawmakers in the House of Commons. But the Brexit Party’s position is important if, in the event that Johnson can’t get parliamentary backing for his deal, the country ends up voting in a general election.

EU cautions against Brexit celebrations yet

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, has voiced his support for the “balanced” new withdrawal deal agreed by the UK and EU today.

But he cautioned that it still has to be passed through both the UK and European Parliaments. “The ball is in the camp of the members of parliament on both sides of the channel,” Verhofstadt tweeted.

Donald Tusk, the President of the EU Council, the body that represents EU leaders, was rueful as he spoke to reporters on his arrival for today’s summit in Brussels. A deal was always better than no deal, he said, “but in my heart, I am a remainer.”

Jean Claude-Juncker, head of the European Commission, the EU’s administrative machine, expressed no view about whether the deal could pass the UK Parliament. “I am not in charge of the British Parliament, fortunately.”

Full text of the new Brexit deal

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has agreed a new withdrawal deal with the European Union, but still faces a huge challenge in getting it passed by Parliament.

Here is the full text of the deal:

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 15: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson waits to welcome NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to 10 Downing Street on October 15, 2019 in London, England.  (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Full text of the latest Brexit deal

BREAKING: The DUP says "No"

There we have it. The Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, whose 10 MPs nominally prop up Boris Johnson’s government in the UK Parliament, have definitively rejected his deal, saying they won’t vote for it on Saturday.

“We have been consistent that we will only ever consider supporting arrangements that are in Northern Ireland’s long-term economic and constitutional interests and protect the integrity of the Union. These proposals are not, in our view, beneficial to the economic well-being of Northern Ireland and they undermine the integrity of the Union.”

That throws a serious spanner in the works for Johnson, whose pathway to a majority in Parliament just narrowed significantly.

And there’s more bad news in the statement: The DUP note, ominously, that the process of getting the UK out of the European Union involves more than just one vote. There’s a whole slew of enabling legislation that must be passed too. And it doesn’t look like Johnson can count on the DUP’s support for that, either.

“Saturday’s vote in Parliament on the proposals will only be the start of a long process to get any Withdrawal Agreement Bill through the House of Commons.”

The DUP rolled a grenade into Brexit talks. Does it have more booby traps planned?

DUP leader, Arlene Foster.

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), rolled a carefully timed grenade into Brexit talks in Brussles Thursday.

Just hours before British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was due to arrive at a make-or-break EU summit, the party announced: “we could not support what is being suggested on customs and consent issues and there is a lack of clarity on VAT.”

Their intervention is not so much a fragmentation killer device, more of a stunning flash bang – and not unexpected – almost derailing frantic last minute talks.

Even at this late stage it’s not clear if the DUP have more booby traps planned for the Brexit talks.

No political party has more at stake in Brexit negotiations than the DUP, and no issue more sensitive than Northern Ireland’s new frontier with the EU.

When the DUP say VAT is an issue, the deal-killing detail for them is Northern Ireland’s place in the UK – and how it will be impacted by a new system of collecting taxes.

In short, whether Northern Ireland is being treated differently to the rest of the UK.

The DUP now faces the toughest choice in their history: whether to compromise on Northern Ireland’s connection to the UK.

For the DUP, Brexit talks have always pivoted on customs and consensus. Or as DUP leader Arlene Foster frames it: “respect of [the] constitutional and economic place of Northern Ireland in UK”.

In real terms that appears to be coming down to what is euphemistically termed a border down the Irish sea separating Northern Ireland and Great Britain – something the DUP has rejected before.

For decades the DUP has been a bastion for the province’s protestant Unionists resistant to a rising tide of Irish nationalism. Past leaders grew infamous with chants of “no surrender”– determined to keep Northern Ireland an inseparable part of the United Kingdom.

Today’s DUP leaders have got more face time in the past few days with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson than most members of his cabinet as he seeks to sooth their jangled nerves.

For Johnson, Brexit is a political calculation. Polls in his party a few months ago revealed they’d dump the DUP if that’s what it took to get Brexit done. Even so the herculean task of getting Brexit through Parliament becomes nigh impossible without them.

The EU demands, and Johnson agrees, Northern Ireland must maintain an open border with the Republic of Ireland, as written in the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement that ended decades of sectarian bloodshed.

The DUP sense an existential threat, not just for the party, but on the value they hold dearest: an unbreakable bond with mainland Britain.

Many of their voters are farmers and small businessmen whose livelihoods depend on an open border with Ireland. Its counter-intuitive to the party’s raison d’etre yet feeds in to fears of a slow slide towards a United Ireland

Their voters know no amount of history will put food on their table. Pragmatism beckons, and that for the DUP has always been one of their toughest challenges.

The Scottish National Party says the Brexit deal is "unfair"

The Scottish National Party is the second-biggest opposition party in the House of Commons – and we’ve just got their reaction.

The Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said that while her party supported “peace and stability on the island of Ireland,” it would not vote for Johnson’s deal because it did not allow Scots any say over whether it should be implemented.

Scotland overwhelmingly voted to remain in the European Union, in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

“For Scotland, this deal would take us out of EU, single market and customs union - all against our will. It would leave us as only part of UK being taken out without consent and with no say on future relationship,” Sturgeon tweeted, adding that her party “will not vote for that.”
“MPs should not fall for a deal/no deal framing. No Brexit/revoke is always an alternative to no deal,” she said.

Background: Scotland overwhelmingly voted to remain in the European Union in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Johnson: "Anti-democratic backstop has been abolished"

The Irish backstop – a key sticking point in former British prime minister Theresa May’s thrice-defeated withdrawal plan – is out.

The backstop was an insurance policy designed to avoid a so-called “hard border” between Ireland and Northern Ireland if no other solution was found by the end of the transition period in 2022. It envisaged that the whole of the UK would remain tied to the EU’s customs union until a trade deal was concluded between the two sides.

The pr