By Antony Mutunga
Since holding a referendum in 2016 and deciding to leave the EU, the United Kingdom (UK) has been working towards smooth separation from the bloc. However, following the resignation of Theresa May after her Brexit deal was voted down by the UK parliament three times, the process of withdrawal is now in shambles. Having already invoked Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, time is running out and it’s now on the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to try and complete the process – if he can.
At the time of going to press, Finland and France had given Britain an ultimatum to submit their written proposals for Brexit by September 30 at the latest or it would be “over”. That gave the embattled Johnson, just over one week days to lay out his alternative proposals to the backstop arrangement — the insurance policy worked into the Withdrawal Agreement to prevent the erection of a physical border in Northern Ireland.
Thankfully, the European Parliament voted yesterday to grant the UK another Brexit extension should it ask for it. Johnson has said he doesn’t want an extension.
To avoid a situation similar to that of his predecessor, Johnson has to deal with arguments that saw the deal voted down. One of the main reasons the deal was voted down was the ‘Irish backstop’ which looked to guarantee an open frontier between Northern Ireland in the UK, and the Republic of Ireland which is a member of the EU. In May’s deal, the whole of the UK was to remain in a single customs territory with the EU until July 1, 2020, which could be extended or terminated following mutual agreement.
The majority of the UK parliament is against this as they felt the UK would be at a disadvantage as it prevents the country from reaching trade deals. Those against the backstop feel that the independence of the country will be compromised. This is despite the EU further explaining that the UK will be able to start a formal dispute against the bloc if it tried to tie it to the backstop indefinitely.
Elsewhere, some members of parliament who supported to remain in the EU have also argued that the deal, particularly the political declaration, fails to deal with how the withdrawal will affect future relations. For instance, the Labour Party considers the Brexit deal too vague as it ignores the parties demands for a customs union with the EU.
Johnson has made it clear he does not hold a similar view to the backstop as Theresa May did. In his view, the term has to be renegotiated in the new deal he is trying to negotiate with the EU. This will indeed be difficult as the EU still holds its decision that the deal cannot be renegotiated and even if it could, all other member states have to agree to it as well. If a deal is not met, the prime minister had planned to not ask for an extension and rather go ahead without a deal.
However, if he does so, it will be against the law as the parliament voted through a law forcing the government to seek a third extension. Per the law, the prime minister will have to request for an extension if no deal is reached by October 19 pushing the deadline to January 31, 2020. This can, however, be avoided, if the MPs approve the current deal or vote in favour of withdrawal with no deal. On the other hand, before the UK is given an extension, all EU members have to agree and also the bloc can set a different deadline date.
Still being in the EU, the prime minister is hoping he can convince the EU to renegotiate before attending the summit of EU leaders in Brussels on October, thus allowing the UK to have an opportunity to leave on time without an extension. The whole world is watching in anticipation as the impact of the prolonged Brexit is felt all over.
Whether the UK will finally start its departure from the UK or extend the negotiation, time will be the judge of that.