The new Brexit deal reached by Boris Johnson with the European Union (EU) essentially revives one of the options previously rejected by Theresa May. To avoid reintroducing a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the new Brexit deal instead places a border in the Irish Sea. Johnson and the EU negotiators also made compromises to the Irish backstop negotiated by May in order to arrive at the new Brexit deal.
A border is inevitable because after Brexit, the Republic of Ireland will remain with the EU while Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom (UK), will leave. Currently, with the UK part of the EU, Irish borders and customs checks have been a thing of the past. The most contentious issue standing in the way of Brexit has been how to effect a UK departure without reintroducing into the island of Ireland a border that evokes “the Troubles” that claimed thousands of lives. Theresa May’s “Irish backstop deal” attempted to achieve this goal by leaving the entire UK in the EU until a permanent solution was found. This approach was soundly rejected by the British Parliament on at least three occasions.
Boris Johnson’s new Brexit deal would allow the United Kingdom to leave the EU on whatever date Brexit actually happens. However, Northern Ireland would have to continue to apply certain EU rules on agricultural and industrial goods. These rules, along with the requirement to collect customs duties on goods being traded or moved between the EU and the UK, would be enforced by Britain at its ports, including in the Irish Sea. Beginning in 2024, Northern Ireland would gain the right to vote on whether or not to continue to comply with EU’s rules.
The new Brexit deal preserves the integrity of EU customs rules, an essential and important component of the EU customs Union. Brexiters achieve their goal of being able to leave what they consider the onerous requirements of belonging to the EU. Except, that is, for those rules that will continue to apply in Northern Ireland for the next four years. And here is the sticking point that may undermine the new Brexit deal. This provision is disliked by Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a member of Johnson’s parliamentary coalition, which has vowed to oppose the deal.
The UK Parliament has insisted that it has a voice on the future of Brexit, and this resolve has been upheld by the British courts. The UK Parliament has also insisted that the UK not leave the EU without a deal in place. On October 19, 2019, the UK Parliament passed the Letwin Amendment, requiring that all the legislation to implement the new Brexit deal be adopted before it will approve Boris Johnson’s plan. That vote triggered the Benn Act which required Johnson to request a three-month extension to avoid UK’s departure from the EU without a deal.
So, Brexit is on its third delay, with the departure process now scheduled to begin on January 31, 2020. This date however will likely be determined by the outcome of the general election which Boris Johnson has called for December 12th, 2019. Stay tuned.