December 20, 2019 01:39:58
After a marathon election campaign in which he baked a “Brexit beef pie”, crashed a digger through a “gridlock” wall and begged for votes in a Love Actually-style ad, Boris Johnson now has a majority in the UK’s Parliament.
Before the election, it was impossible for Mr Johnson — and Prime Minister Theresa May before him — to get Parliament to agree on a Brexit deal.
But with 365 seats in the House of Commons, the Conservatives no longer have to rely on the support of minor parties.
Mr Johnson, whose election slogan was “Get Brexit done,” has pledged to bring his EU withdrawal agreement bill before MPs for a vote before Christmas.
With the UK set to leave the European Union on January 31, that leaves Boris Johnson very little time to pull this off.
Here’s what could happen next.
A House of Commons vote for ‘Brexmas’
The UK Parliament could hold its first vote on Johnson’s Brexit deal as early as this Friday, December 20 (Saturday in Australia).
The Prime Minister is operating on an extremely short timeframe, with only about 15 sitting days left before the January 31 deadline.
So he may ask to have the “first reading” — a formality which announces the bill to Parliament — and the “second reading” to be held on one day.
The “second reading” will allow MPs to debate the merits and flaws of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill before it heads into the committee stage.
Some amendments may be added, and then it will be sent to the House of Lords.
But with his commanding majority, Boris Johnson’s bill is expected to sail through.
It would then be sent to the Queen for her royal assent — the last formal step turning a bill into law.
The UK and EU enter the ‘transition period’
If the bill passes, the UK will formally leave the European Union at the end of January 2020, more than three and a half years after the referendum.
But this is only the first phase of Brexit.
The second phase is known as the transition period.
This will give the UK and EU until December 2020 to work out their future relationship, including trade, immigration, security and foreign policy.
During this time, the UK will remain in the EU’s customs union and single market.
But the British government will not have any decision-making power in the bloc and no British members in the European Parliament.
There is currently an option to extend the transition — by mutual agreement — for two years.
But British media is reporting that Mr Johnson wants to remove this clause to guarantee the transition lasts no longer than December 2020.
Ireland’s foreign minister, Simon Coveney, has already branded the move as “strange”.
“We all know that the negotiations [after] a British exit from the EU are going to be very complicated,” he said.
“I just think if we’ve learned anything from the first round of Brexit negotiations … it’s that we shouldn’t be closing off options.”
Forget ‘hard Brexit’. Now it’s the ‘cliff edge’
The shortest free trade agreement negotiations the European Union has ever held were with South Korea.
That took two years and five months to complete.
A free trade agreement with Canada took seven years. Australia launched talks with Europe in June 2018, and they’re still going.
So Boris Johnson’s 11-month timeline could be pretty tight.
The UK financial markets certainly think so, with the pound dropping once reports emerged of Boris Johnson’s plan to impose the December 2020 deadline.
If the UK cannot reach a deal with Europe by New Year’s Eve 2020, the Kingdom once again faces the prospect of crashing out of the EU.
“Failing to reach an agreement would lead to another cliff-edge situation,” Sabine Weyand, the head of the EU’s trade department, has warned.
Falling over the cliff edge would see tariffs imposed on goods coming into the UK.
Motorways could turn into carparks as trucks would suddenly be subjected to customs checks to enter the EU.
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There could be food and medicine shortages.
The rights of Europeans living in the UK would become unclear.
Boris Johnson’s majority may have bought him some time, but the potential nightmare of a no-deal Brexit still looms.
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