Boris Johnson’s Brexit plan will tear apart the United Kingdom


Boris Johnson’s Brexit plan will tear apart the United Kingdom///JONATHAN POWELL

Hard border: A Royal Ulster Constabulary officer stands guard at a customs post in 1961 ( Getty Images )

Tony Blair’s first visit outside London after his election landslide in May 1997 was to the Royal Ulster Agricultural Show in Balmoral, near Belfast. Among the prize bulls, he tried to reassure unionists that they were safe under a Labour government, and in his speech he said: ‘“None of us in this hall today, even the youngest, is likely to see Northern Ireland as anything but a part of the United Kingdom.” It worked. Now, after Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal, the unionists can no longer be so sure.

With the race to pass the legislation paused, we can stand back and judge the deal on its merits. For if there is to be an election it will be a referendum not on Brexit but on Boris Johnson’s deal. And this deal is a threat to the union — not the European Union but the continuation of the United Kingdom.

The vast majority of the text is identical to Theresa May’s deal, and the problems it will cause for our society, political system and economy have been repeatedly rehearsed.

Indeed, that was voted down three times in the House of Commons, including twice by Boris Johnson, and was judged enormously unpopular in opinion polls.

What is new is the removal of the UK from the Customs Union and the provisions on Northern Ireland. As the DUP plaintively points out, these have not been debated and nor is there any economic assessment of their implications for Northern Ireland. Nor has there been any proper consideration of the unintended consequences for the future of the United Kingdom.

The Northern Ireland measures are not what Boris Johnson wanted nor the result of a clever negotiating strategy. He proposed something completely different. He wanted a hard customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland. That was what won him DUP support.

Jonathan Powell (Getty Image

But at the last minute, in a panic to achieve a deal by the arbitrary date of October 31 he had set himself, he capitulated and accepted the EU proposal of a hard customs and regulatory border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Thank goodness he did jettison his earlier ideas because a hard border in Ireland would have posed an existential threat to the Good Friday Agreement (GFA). But he should have thought more carefully about what he was putting in its place. It is clear from his answers in the House of Commons this week — where he falsely denied that Northern Ireland business would have to fill in EU forms to send goods to the UK — that he has no idea what he has agreed to. A grasp of detail is not his strong point.

The Northern Ireland peace process is a carefully balanced seesaw. What Johnson has done is leap from one end of the seesaw to the other, disrupting that balance. And the implications for the future of the UK are serious. A border in Ireland would have been a threat to the identity of nationalists in Northern Ireland as Irish.

A border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK is a threat to the identity of unionists as British. They legitimately fear that this is the beginning of a slippery slope to a united Ireland, and that is why we have once again started hearing worrying noises from the Loyalist paramilitary groups. As the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland warned last night, this could lead to civil disorder or worse.

The new border Boris Johnson has created is not just wider than he claims — and certainly not a transitional arrangement as suggested — but will grow wider over time as the UK diverges from the EU in terms of regulation and tariffs. More and more goods will be put on the list of those that need to be checked. The problem is not just for business but the very idea of a border separating unionists from the country they want to be united with.

The UK Government is obliged under the GFA to hold a border poll if there appears to be a majority for a united Ireland. The numbers are already moving in that direction as a result of Brexit, as Catholic voters are forced to choose between continuing in the EU and staying in the UK. Those numbers will continue to move as a result of demography and continued incorporation into the single market and customs union.

The impact of all this on Scotland is obvious. First the SNP government is bound to demand the same treatment as Northern Ireland, which is going to enjoy a soft Brexit while Scotland will face a hard Brexit, despite voting in broadly equal proportions to remain. And when Boris Johnson denies them this, as well as refusing a further referendum, he will add to their list of grievances and drive up support for independence still further, which has already risen to 50 per cent in recent polls. So, the one thing the Johnson deal will do which the May deal did not is set out a plausible path to a united Ireland and an independent Scotland. Is that really what English and Welsh Brexit voters intended? I don’t think so.

Of course, the best way to decide this question would be in a further referendum rather than an election which will mix Johnson’s deal with other issues, like the unpopularity of Jeremy Corbyn. But if you live in England and Wales and feel strongly about the continuation of the United Kingdom, this election may be your last and only opportunity to vote to stop its destruction. Because afterwards the only people who will be able to vote on it are those who live in Scotland or in Ireland.

  • Jonathan Powell was chief government negotiator in Northern Ireland 1997-2007Bo

Brexit Latest: Boris Johnson Finally Gets to Put His Deal to the Vote



His moment of truth will come at around 7 p.m. in London, with what’s known as the Second Reading vote — on whether Parliament agrees with the general principles of the bill. There will then be another vote immediately afterward on his proposed fast-track timetable for passing the law.

The EU leadership gives its own update on the Brexit state of play on Brexit, with Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, and Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, briefing the European Parliament.

Follow developments as they happen here. All times U.K.

Key Developments:

  • From 8 a.m., Tusk and Juncker brief European Parliament on outcome of last week’s leaders’ summit
  • From 12:30 p.m. The main debate on the general principle of the Brexit deal starts in Parliament
  • 7 p.m. House of Commons votes on the general principle of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (known as “second reading”) and then immediately on the proposed fast-track timetable for rushing the law through Parliament (the so-called program motion)

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News there will be “sufficient” time for members of Parliament to go over the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and that the “vast majority” know where they on Brexit.

But MPs from across the House of Commons are threatening to vote against Boris Johnson’s accelerated timetable for his Brexit plan, arguing three days of debate is not enough for proper analysis of the 110-page piece of legislation.

Former Conservative Cabinet minister Rory Stewart, who now sits as an independent, told BBC radio Parliament should have “normal time” to discuss the bill, highlighting concerns from voters who wish to remain in the European Union and a lack of trust in Johnson’s government.

Johnson: Get Brexit Done and Move On (Earlier)

On the eve of the votes, the prime minister appealed to members of Parliament to back his deal and push it through the House of Commons.

“We have negotiated a new deal so that we can leave without disruption and provide a framework for a new relationship based on free trade and friendly cooperation,” Boris Johnson said in an emailed statement.

“I hope Parliament today votes to take back control for itself and the British people and the country can start to focus on the cost of living, the NHS, and conserving our environment,” he said. “The public doesn’t want any more delays, neither do other European leaders and neither do I. Let’s get Brexit done on Oct. 31 and move on.”


Boris Johnson Finally Gets to Put His Brexit Deal to the VoteBrexit’s Big Winner So Far Is Boris Johnson: Clive CrookFacebook Pledges Tighter Scrutiny for Next U.K. Election

To contact the reporters on this story: Robert Hutton in London at;Kitty Donaldson in London at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at, ;Flavia Krause-Jackson at, Stuart Biggs

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.


BREXIT BREAKING NEWS – EU gave nothing away’: Europe media assess, react on Boris Johnson Brexit deal


The UK and EU negotiators joined PM Boris Johnson (2nd L) and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker (2nd R) to pose for photographers

Boris Johnson’s concessions to EU were humiliating but he may still succeed, say pundits All the latest Brexit developments – live @jonhenley

European media and commentators were unanimous in saying that the greatest and most humiliating concessions in the new Brexit accord concluded on Thursday had been made not by the EU, but by Boris Johnson.

Yet, most argued, even if his deal did not pass the Commons on Saturday, the British prime minister had succeeded in getting exactly what he wanted, and – at least domestically – looked set to emerge a winner.

France’s Libération said the UK and the EU had concluded a deal “in extremis” to avoid a no-deal catastrophe. Even if the bloc had reopened talks it had declared closed at the end of last year, “in reality it was London that made the biggest gesture, by agreeing to customs checks between the UK and Northern Ireland”.

The Guardian newspaper said, was “supremely symbolic”. The EU27 had adopted the deal “but without many illusions about how long it might last, such were the doubts over whether they would ever actually accept it”. And at the moment, “everything indicates MPs will not back it: the arithmetic is merciless.”

Johnson’s gamble is high-risk, the paper said. “But the British prime minister knows it, and for him the most important thing is not that parliament approves the deal. What really matters to Johnson is to be able to present something concrete to parliament – and, above all, to future voters.”

Germany’s Die Welt agreed the prime minister was the big winner – even if he loses Saturday’s vote. “At first glance, the outlook for Johnson is not good,” it said. “He lacks votes on both sides of the house. But if MPs are faced with a choice between Johnson’s deal and no deal, they may well vote for an orderly exit.”

“And even if he loses,” it added, “the EU will give him an extension long enough to organise elections. He can say he has a deal. The opposition can offer only unknowns, and an even longer Brexit drama – and the Brits are exhausted. Brexit may not come on 31 October. But it is coming, and most likely under a prime minister Johnson.”

The Irish Times said in an editorial that the concessions on the EU side had been “less substantial than those made by London”. Yes, the backstop was gone, the paper said. “But the price Johnson has paid is his acceptance of the very thing – Northern Ireland in the EU customs union – that the backstop would, if activated, have produced.”

Last year, it observed, “Johnson said no British prime minister could ever accept a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea. He just has.” As it stood, the deal was “good for Dublin, in that it ensures no border infrastructure in Ireland. For the EU, the integrity of the single market is maintained.”

But it was also good news for the British prime minister, who “even if he loses Saturday’s vote he can go to the people arguing that he did what he said he would do, only to be stymied by parliament.”

First, though, would come Saturday, the Netherlands’ De Volkskrant argued, reminding its readers of Lyndon B Johnson’s first rule of politics: “Its practitioners need to be able to count.” That, the paper said, was most certainly going to apply to the late American president’s British namesake over the coming few days.

“Although the DUP instantly rejected the deal on Thursday morning, Johnson says he is still confident of a parliamentary majority. He is betting that MPs scared of a no deal will prefer certainty to uncertainty. The biggest challenge will be in winning over enough Labour deputies. Johnson may hope that he is heading towards his finest hour. But the bookies reckon he’s going to end up seven votes short.”

Spain’s El Pais said the deal represented “the least bad exit for the immediate future”. The UK would, as Angela Merkel said, “become a rival – but not an enemy, as would have happened in case of a no-deal Brexit. Now, disagreements are going to be agreed – as long as MPs back the deal, which is not a given.”

The EU, the paper said, “has given nothing away with this modification of the withdrawal agreement. It had already offered these terms before; the other party rejected them.” And at the very least, “a no-deal, chaotic, economically disastrous and civically damaging outcome has been avoided for the EU citizens who reside on that unfortunate island. Goodbye.”


Brexit deal latest news: Boris Johnson confirms a ‘great new deal has been done’ but DUP say they are not on board




Brexit: MPs back bid to block Parliament suspension


MPs have backed a bid to stop a new prime minister suspending Parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit//BBC NEWS

A majority of 41 approved an amendment that blocks suspension between 9 October and 18 December unless a Northern Ireland executive is formed.

Four cabinet ministers, including Philip Hammond, abstained and 17 Tory MPs rebelled, including minister Margot James, who has resigned.

Leadership contender Boris Johnson has not ruled out suspending Parliament.

His rival Jeremy Hunt has ruled out this move.

Ms James told the BBC attempting to suspend Parliament was “too extreme” adding: “I thought the time was right today to join people who are trying to do something about it.”

The four cabinet ministers who abstained are International Development Secretary Rory Stewart, Business Secretary Greg Clark and Justice Secretary David Gauke, as well as Chancellor Mr Hammond.

Mr Clark defended his decision to abstain arguing: “I couldn’t support the idea that we would allow the doors of Parliament to be locked against MPs at this crucially important time – that would be a constitutional outrage.”

Mr Hammond tweeted: “It should not be controversial to believe that Parliament be allowed to sit, and have a say, during a key period in our country’s history.”

Image copyrightUK PARLIAMENTImage captionMargot James told the BBC “I felt it was time to put my marker down”

A Downing Street spokesman said the prime minister was “obviously disappointed that a number of ministers failed to vote in this afternoon’s division”.

“No doubt her successor will take this into account when forming their government,” the spokesman said.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the vote was “an important victory to prevent the Tories from suspending Parliament to force through a disastrous no deal”.

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said the Commons had now made it harder for a new prime minister to suspend Parliament.

If the 31 October deadline is reached without Parliament backing an agreement between the UK government and the EU, the UK is scheduled to leave the EU without a deal.

MPs have consistently voted against a no-deal Brexit, but the prime minister could try to get around that by suspending Parliament – proroguing – in the run-up to the deadline, denying them an opportunity to block it.

The amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill was put forward by MPs including former minister Alistair Burt and Brexit committee chairman and Labour MP Hilary Benn.

It would mean that if Parliament is prorogued when the government publishes reports on the situation in Northern Ireland, MPs must be recalled to debate them.

Mr Burt told the BBC that Parliament had said “very clearly please don’t bypass us… Parliament must be sitting in the run up to 31 October”.