Belfast Telegraph

Brexit: PM has 24 hours to save deal but can he whip up support?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel
Labour MP Kate Hoey

By Kevin Doyle

Prime Minister Boris Johnson must achieve "the impossible" one more time if he is get to get Brexit done by October 31.

He has just 24 hours to convince enough MPs to support his alternative to the backstop.

After a historic day in Brussels, the eyes of Europe are focused back on London for what is being teed up as a 'Super Saturday' in the House of Commons.

Not since the Falkland's War in 1982 has Parliament been convened at the weekend.

Mr Johnson will issue MPs with a "my deal or no deal" ultimatum. But a Remain alliance want to make the deal conditional on a second referendum.

Despite uncertainty over the vote, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was being lauded in Brussels last night as the man who made the right compromises.

EU Council President Donald Tusk said a deal "that was impossible yesterday" became possible because it had been "positively assessed by Ireland".

Mr Tusk said the Brexit deal "allows us to avoid chaos and an atmosphere of conflict between the EU27 and the United Kingdom".

He didn't rule out a possible extension to the October 31 deadline for the UK's departure - but there is now a clear preference among EU leaders for Brexit to happen in just two weeks time.

"Now we are all waiting for the votes in both Parliaments," he said in reference to the House of Commons and European Parliament.

Having argued for months that the Withdrawal Agreement, including the Irish backstop, could not be reopened, the EU Council unanimously approved the new Irish protocol.

A visibly happy Angela Merkel told reporters that achieving the deal had been "real hard work."

The German Chancellor called the agreement "a compromise for all sides" but noted that it contains key demands from the EU side, including maintaining the integrity of the common market and preserving the Good Friday Agreement. Leaders see Mr Varadkar's meeting with Boris Johnson outside Liverpool last week as the moment space was made for compromise.

The Taoiseach was invited to appear alongside Mr Tusk, the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier and EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker as they briefed the international media.

Mr Varadkar said of the UK: "There will always be a place at the table for them if they ever want to come back."

Irish officials accepted last night that the backstop has been scrapped after months of insistence that such a move would never happen.

The new arrangement also includes a time-limit which will see politicians in Northern Ireland vote on their 'special relationship' with the EU after four years.

But Mr Varadkar said: "What we have is a revised agreement, a new solution, a unique solution which recognises the unique history of Northern Ireland, different from the backstop, more likely to be used to come into force and could become permanent, but only with the consent of the elected representatives Northern Ireland."

Mr Johnson appealed to those in Northern Ireland as well as across party lines in order to encourage support for the deal.

"I am very confident that when my colleagues in Parliament study this agreement that they will want to vote for it on Saturday and in succeeding days," he said.

"We've been at this now, as I say, for three and a half years. It hasn't always been an easy experience for the UK. It's been long, it's been painful, it's been divisive.

"And now is the moment for us as a country to come together. Now is the moment for our parliamentarians to come together and get this thing done," he added.

Appealing to Arlene Foster's party, he insisted the country can leave the bloc "as one United Kingdom" and "decide our future together".

EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker piled the pressure on MPs to back the deal in the parliamentary showdown by raising doubts over any further delay to the UK's departure past October 31.

Following days of intense negotiations, the PM announced that he had struck a "great new deal" shortly before heading to the Brussels meeting.

But it must still be passed by a Parliament which has so far proved hostile to both Brexit and Mr Johnson.

Former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell tweeted that no progressive MP could support Mr Johnson's new deal.

He wrote: "ERG backing Boris Johnson's deal because he has made clear to them it keeps No Deal on the table. We are dealing with Northern Ireland split off then hardest Brexit or no deal down the line.

"No progressive MP could possibly support this."

Belfast-born Labour MP Kate Hoey, a vocal advocate of Brexit, tweeted: "Seems the UK Government has not thought through the repercussions of driving a coach and horses through the Belfast agreement."

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