Parliament vs Johnson
The day that Brexit was supposed to happen has come and gone. Shortly after the week began, the official date that the UK was supposed to leave the EU has once again been delayed, while the UK braces itself for a general election on 12th December. But how has it got to this?
On 17th October, Boris Johnson reached a last-minute deal with the EU and rushed back to the UK to ask the UK Parliament to vote on the new agreement by 19th October. Parliament voted instead to withhold the vote until the laws implementing Brexit were established. This, in turn, forced Johnson to request a Brexit delay, in compliance with the Benn Act – a bill approved on 4th September according to which the PM was forced to request a Brexit extension if a withdrawal agreement had not been approved by 19th October.
Boris strikes back
Visibly dismayed by the setback, Johnson requested for a general election to take place on 12th December in exchange for granting Parliament more time to approve the exit deal. The Prime Minister is in search of a clear majority in Parliament, which breaks the eternal deadlock that seems to prevent Brexit from happening.
He had already called for a snap general election in early September, after suffering a defeat when the Benn Act was approved by Parliament. But his plans were stopped by Parliament when he lost the vote on his motion for a snap election.
This time, however, Labour has accepted the challenge and, on 30th October, Parliament voted in favour of a snap election that will take place on 12th December.
Europe grants extension
Meanwhile, EU leaders seemed divided on the request for an extension. While almost all European capitals were in principle in favour of a short extension to allow UK Parliament enough time to deliver on the new agreements, France was reticent to grant further delay without a clear outcome for this deliberation in sight.
After Donald Tusk and Angela Merkel showed their support for the extension, France conceded to grant the UK a further delay until 31st January 2020, with the possibility of an earlier exit day. The so call “flextension” allows the possibility for the UK to leave the EU before 31st January – as soon as Parliament ratifies the Withdrawal Agreement – which could deliver a Brexit in time for Christmas.
Labour´s decision to agree to a general election has come as a surprise. Jeremy Corbyn has justified the decision on the grounds that a no-deal scenario is not on the table anymore, removing Labour´s major argument against a general election.
Things are looking grim for Corbyn´s party, with the latest poll showing strong support for the Conservatives, with different polls showing an average of 37% support for the Conservatives. The polls also confirm the rise of the Liberal Democrats with 17%, not too far off from the Labour party with 25%.
Labour´s campaign will focus on the consequences of the austerity policy supported by the Conservatives for the past nine years. The Conservatives are holding on to the momentum the agreement reached by Boris Johnson has given them and are exploiting their role as the party who delivered Brexit. The Liberal Democrats, by contrast, have erected themselves as the anti-Brexit party and have not given up hope for a second referendum.
What happens next on Brexit depends on the outcome of the election. Boris Johnson is hoping to implement the Brexit deal that he negotiated with the EU, but a new version of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill would have to be introduced in the new Parliament – and go back to the beginning of its approval stage in Parliament.
Going into the election, Labour have said that they would want to renegotiate the Brexit deal and put it to another public vote. Labour says its referendum would be a choice between a “credible” Leave option versus Remain. Under its Leave option, Labour says it will negotiate for the UK to remain in an EU customs union and retain a “close” single market relationship.
Junker and Tusk sum it up
Whatever the outcome of the election, any new developments after the New Year will have to be dealt with by a new Commission President and a new President of the European Council.
Both Jean Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk are saying their goodbyes soon and have been commenting on their time negotiating Brexit. On a tweet published on Wednesday, Donald Tusk wrote “to my British friends. The EU27 has formally adopted the extension. It may be the last one. Please make the best use of this time. I also want to say goodbye to you as my mission here is coming to an end. I will keep my fingers crossed for you”.
Jean Claude Juncker, staying loyal to his direct and controversial style, commented that he regrets spending much of his mandate trying to solve the Brexit issue. “In truth, it has pained me to spend so much of this mandate dealing with Brexit when I have thought of nothing less than how this Union could do better for its citizens,” an upset Juncker told MEPs. “Waste of time, waste of energy.”