Ending the Brexit stalemate
The template of the deal is clear. But the politics of seeing it through is uncertainUpdated: Oct 21, 2019 19:42 IST
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is one vote in parliament away from the end of the Brexit tragedy. However, as Saturday’s surprise parliamentary ambush of what he had hoped would be the closing act showed, this last vote will remain elusive. The British leader has requested the European Union (EU) for another three-month extension for Britain’s departure from the EU. Brussels is expected to grant the reprieve. After all, Mr Johnson and the EU leaders now have the outline of a mutually acceptable deal. The core concession: A fudge on the customs status of Northern Ireland which would be de jure British but de facto European. In the meantime, Britain and the EU will work towards a zero-tariff trade agreement. London and Brussels will align their policies in some areas (climate), but not others (immigration).
Mr Johnson had hoped to get this quickly cleared in parliament. But years of poisonous Brexit infighting has meant the two-party system of the past has frayed at the edges. It was a rebel parliamentarian who forced Saturday’s delay. Mr Johnson’s deal has passed muster with the hard Right of his own party, but has cost him his Northern Irish allies. He needs to win over independent parliamentarians, and a chunk of the opposition Labour Party. Whatever happens, an early election triggered by the latest Brexit deal is almost certain.
Indian firms, among Britain’s largest foreign investors, will be happy that the draft agreement points to a seamless British and EU trading relationship. It is probably safe to say the template for any final Brexit agreement has now been set, though the politics remains unsettled. Britain will be marginally economically the poorer, and the EU marginally weaker, for the decision. But ending this prolonged uncertainty has become the more important goal as far as Britain, India and the rest of the world is concerned.