Belfast Telegraph

Boris Johnson faces Commons struggle after securing Brexit deal

Key Tory ally the DUP remains unhappy at the Government’s Brexit stance.

File picture of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Jean-Claude Juncker (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
File picture of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Jean-Claude Juncker (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

By Shaun Connolly, PA Political Correspondent

Boris Johnson is facing an uphill struggle to get the last-minute Brexit deal he struck with the EU through the Commons.

Following days of intense negotiations, the Prime Minister announced an agreement had been reached with Brussels as he headed to a summit of EU leaders on Thursday.

However, key Tory ally the DUP stood firm over its objections to the Government’s Brexit stance.

With the Commons expected to sit on Saturday to go over the deal, the first weekend session of Parliament for 37 years, the DUP insisted it still could not yet back the Government’s EU withdrawal plans.

The stance of the DUP is important because the party wields influence over some hardline Tory Brexiteers and Mr Johnson is far short of a majority in Parliament.

The Prime Minister tweeted: “We’ve got a great new deal that takes back control, now Parliament should get Brexit done on Saturday so we can move on to other priorities like the cost of living, the NHS, violent crime and our environment.”

Mr Johnson added: “We will leave the EU’s customs union as one United Kingdom and be able to strike trade deals all around the world.

“This is a deal which allows us to get Brexit done and leave the EU in two weeks’ time.”

Mr Johnson said that the “anti-democratic” backstop had been abolished.

“The people of Northern Ireland will be in charge of the laws that they live by, and, unlike the backstop, will have the right to end the special arrangement if they so choose.”

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker tweeted: “Where there is a will, there is a #deal – we have one! It’s a fair and balanced agreement for the EU and the UK and it is testament to our commitment to find solutions. I recommend that #EUCO endorses this deal.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was quick to dismiss the deal.

Speaking during a visit to Brussels, he said: “This is a day where the Prime Minister seems to have made a deal with the European Union which doesn’t give us the complete freedom of movement between Britain and Ireland because it creates a customs union border down the Irish Sea.

“As it stands we cannot support this deal.

“Also it is unclear whether it has the support of his allies in the DUP, or indeed many of his allies on his own backbenches.”

“From what we know, it seems the Prime Minister has negotiated an even worse deal than Theresa May’s, which was overwhelmingly rejected.”

Speaking at a press conference, European Commission chief negotiator, Michel Barnier said: “Throughout these negotiations the EU and UK were fully committed to protect peace and stability on the island of Ireland.

“Discussions over the past days have at times been difficult, but have delivered and we have delivered together.

“There should be no surprises here, much of the final text can also be found in the agreement that was put forward a year ago.

“There are some new elements including on Ireland and Northern Ireland.

“This agreement has been built together with the UK, that’s why I am confident it can be supported and ratified in time.”

Mr Barnier said the Prime Minister assured him and Mr Juncker he had the confidence to get the deal through Parliament on Saturday, despite not having a working majority.

He said: “Mr Johnson said to President Juncker this morning he has faith in his ability to convince the majority he needs in the House of Commons.

“He said based on this agreement and the explanations he intends to give, he has confidence in his ability to win that vote.”

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said SNP MPs at Westminster will not vote for the new Brexit deal – warning that a “much harder Brexit beckons” if it passes.

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove denied the Government had thrown the DUP under a bus in order to secure an agreement, telling Sky News: “Absolutely not, this is a great deal.”

Mr Gove insisted the Government did not expect defeat on the deal.

The Benn Act, which was pushed through Parliament by no-deal opponents, states that the PM must seek a delay beyond the October 31 Brexit deadline if MPs do not give their backing to an agreement on Saturday, when the extraordinary Commons showdown is anticipated.

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(PA Graphics)

Pressed on what would happen if the Commons votes down the deal on Saturday, Mr Gove said: “We don’t contemplate defeat.”

Mr Corbyn said he does not “suspect” Saturday will present a chance to get a confirmatory referendum through Parliament.

Asked if he would back a second referendum on Saturday when speaking in Brussels, he told reporters: “It won’t come up on Saturday, I suspect.”

Addressing MPs in the Commons, prominent Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said: “I am pleased to say that this is a really fantastic and exciting deal.”

European Council President Donald Tusk told reporters that a deal is always better than no deal.

“Deal is always better than no deal, but I am not happy because of the substance of this political fight,” he said.

“But, of course a deal is better than no deal.”

The revised protocol states Northern Ireland will remain aligned with Single Market regulations on goods.

Checks and procedures on such goods will take place at ports and airports in Northern Ireland and not on the border.

Northern Ireland will remain a part of the UK’s customs territory, so it will be included in any future trade deals struck by the Government after Brexit.

However, the region will also remain an entry point into the EU’s customs zone. UK authorities will apply UK tariffs to products entering Northern Ireland as long as they are not destined for onward transportation across the border.

EU rules on Value Added Tax and excise duties will apply in Northern Ireland, with the UK responsible for their collection. However, revenues derived will be retained by the UK.

Stormont Assembly members will vote whether to continue to apply the arrangements after an initial four-year period following them coming into effect at the start of 2021.

PA

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