This Really Is a Crunch Week for Brexit

Rosalind Mathieson
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This Really Is a Crunch Week for Brexit

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It’s 11 days until the U.K. is due to shed its European Union membership and, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson so often says, “take back control.”Problem is, right now there’s no control. Headed into yet another “crunch” week for Brexit where anything could happen, the U.K. is careering towards a true crisis.A special sitting of parliament yesterday resulted in another defeat for Johnson. Lawmakers, stung by his repeated efforts to bypass them, slapped him with an amendment that required him to ask the EU to defer Brexit until Jan. 31. Johnson grudgingly sent that letter — unsigned — late in the evening. He sent another — this one he signed — arguing a further delay would be a mistake.There are two things to watch: whether the EU grants an extension (see more below on that) and the gyrations in the U.K. Parliament. Debate on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (which implements Brexit) could begin as soon as Tuesday, after the prime minister makes another attempt tomorrow to get Parliament to sign off on the principle of his deal.It’s a massive gamble for a leader lacking a parliamentary majority. The whole thing will be decided by a handful of votes. Johnson will need all of his powers of persuasion and famous oratory wit. The ticking clock, and the desire among lawmakers to avoid a chaotic no-deal exit, might help him.In the incredible three-year soap opera of Brexit, the finale will be a cliff-hanger.

Key Headlines

Number crunching | Lawmakers voted 322 to 306 to force Johnson to seek an extension — an insurance policy against a no-deal Brexit if there’s still no agreement by Oct. 31. He needs to persuade 61 Members of Parliament to back his deal. Rob Hutton and Greg Ritchie crunched the numbers to conclude Johnson now has 62, based on what lawmakers said and did both in the debate before yesterday’s vote and during it.

Click here for a look at how lawmakers voted on the extension amendment.

The options | Everything in theory is still on the table. Johnson could get his deal through before Oct. 31. He might fail and negotiate more time with Brussels. He might fail and try and bypass parliament, triggering legal and other challenges. He might fail and try to crash out on Oct. 31 with no deal at all. He might decide to throw everything aside and call a snap election. If you're exhausted by it all, Sky News is offering Brits an escape from the drama with a new Brexit-free news channel.

Europe's view | Many European officials oppose Brexit. “Our door will always remain open,” EU Council President Donald Tusk said last week after the deal with the EU was reached. French President Emmanuel Macron has said he doesn't think a delay should be granted, signaling frustration at how long this has dragged on. But the general feeling is the EU would prefer another delay to a chaotic no-deal exit. Tusk said last night he'll start consulting leaders on how to react, which may take a few days. A unanimous vote is needed to grant an extension.

Read the in-the-room rundown of how Johnson got his agreement with Europe.

Sticking point | The biggest obstacle to getting the deal through parliament is the historically fraught border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, set to become the only land crossing between the EU and the U.K. after Brexit. The plan agreed by EU negotiators would see a new type of border emerge not on land, but in the Irish Sea. Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which wants to remain part of the U.K., says it can't support the plan.Business imperative | Some trade bodies had urged lawmakers to ratify the Brexit deal, simply to put an end to three years of uncertainty that have clouded their prospects and hampered investment plans. Passing it would trigger a transition period that preserves much of the current trading architecture. U.K. businesses see avoiding a no-deal exit as the overriding priority. Now the door has opened to an extension, which they may welcome.

And finally....Hundreds of thousands marched through central London yesterday, converging on Westminster to call for a second referendum on leaving the EU. They sang songs, chanted “Object to Brexit” and waved EU and British flags. As it began to rain, Johnson’s defeat in the House of Commons was greeted with loud cheers outside.

 

--With assistance from Karl Maier.

To contact the author of this story: Rosalind Mathieson in London at rmathieson3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kathleen Hunter at khunter9@bloomberg.net

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