The Slatest

This Week in Brexit: Surprise, Surprise, Another Delay

Jeremy Corbyn, Boris Johnson.
Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photo by Jack Hill - WPA Pool / Getty Images.

At this point, the only rational explanation for what’s happening with Brexit is demonic intervention. A powerful and devious Luxembourgish wood spirit has locked the leaders of the United Kingdom in a cage, and as punishment for their arrogant wish to leave the European Union, they’re being forced to talk about nothing but the European Union for all eternity.

This week in Parliament: This week ended in characteristically Brexit-y fashion: the EU agreed to delay the Brexit deadline—currently Oct. 31—but delayed the decision on how long to delay. How did we get here?

When we left off last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson had returned from Brussels with a renegotiated withdrawal agreement. Saturday, Oct. 19, was supposed to be the big showdown day when Parliament would vote on the deal. Then it wasn’t.

Oct. 19 was such a key date because, by law, if Parliament hadn’t approved a deal by that day, Johnson was required to ask the EU for an extension in order to prevent a no-deal Brexit. But persnickety ex–Tory MP Oliver Letwin proposed an amendment saying that the deal couldn’t be approved unless all the legislation needed to implement it is passed. (This was meant as an “insurance policy” to prevent the U.K. from accidentally crashing out without a deal if it wasn’t able to pass all this legislation by the end of the month.) The amendment passed, and Johnson was forced to send a letter asking for an extension until Jan. 31, something he once said he’d rather be “dead in a ditch” than do. The letter was unsigned and accompanied by a note saying he didn’t actually want an extension.

On Tuesday, Johnson got a victory of sorts when Parliament voted for his withdrawal legislation on “second reading,” 329–299. This was just a procedural vote to advance the legislation to the stage where it can be debated and amended, but it is farther than Theresa May ever got in any of her attempts, and Johnson was quick to spin it as Parliament having “come together and embraced a deal.”

The victory was short-lived. Later that day, MPs rejected a fast-track three-day timetable for debating the legislation that would have allowed the procedure to be completed by Oct. 31. The government has now been forced to concede that the U.K. won’t be out of the EU by Halloween. Debate on the bill has now been “paused.”

This week in Brussels: Will the EU actually grant an extension? Almost certainly yes, as a no-deal Brexit isn’t in anyone’s interest, but the French are being very French about it. While most of the EU countries want to grant the British request for a three-month extension until Jan. 31, French President Emmanuel Macron only wants the delay to be until Nov. 30 or sooner, in order to pressure Parliament to approve the deal. This stance actually benefits Johnson. Macron held up a decision about the delay at a meeting in Brussels on Friday. The counterargument is that a three-month delay would allow the U.K. to hold a new election and sort out what kind of Brexit they actually want, but the French point out that the Oct. 31 date only came after a “long” extension that left nothing resolved.

Right now we’re in a holding pattern with the Europeans waiting to see what the British do, and the British waiting to see what the Europeans do. Next week is going to be tricky.

This week in elections: A week in which he was rebuked by Parliament twice and forced to abandon his signature campaign pledge can’t really be considered “good,” but by Brexit standards, Johnson is actually in a decent position right now.

On Thursday, Johnson wrote a letter to Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn saying that if the EU grants the extension, there should be an election on Dec. 12. Legislation calling for the election will be put forward next week.

Johnson need two-thirds of Parliament to agree to an early election, and thus far, the Labour Party has refused to allow one until a no-deal Brexit is “off the table.” Corbyn said on Thursday that Labour will decide on whether to agree to an election once the EU announces its extension decision.

Once that decision comes, Labour is going to be in a bit of a pickle. Corbyn himself seems to want an election—he wants to be prime minister, after all—but not all of his members, particularly those representing areas that voted Leave, are so enthusiastic. The polls look dismal for the party. It doesn’t help that the party’s stance on Brexit is a little hard to parse. It wants to hold a referendum, but it’s not clear which side it would campaign for. The one thing the party could agree on was stopping a “no deal” Brexit. Now, no-deal is not quite off the table, but it’s somewhere on the edge of the table, out of eyesight. The party could lose not only Leave voters from Remain ones, who have the option of much less ambiguous parties like the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party. It also really doesn’t help that prominent members of Labour keep resigning, accusing Corbyn of failing to tackle anti-Semitism.

So, it makes sense that Johnson—who can now run on a deal rather than no-deal—wants an election and Labour is skittish. Then again, it also made sense when May, riding high the polls, called a snap election back in 2017, and that did not work out well for her at all.

This week in actual consequences: There’s been so much coverage of the complicated political drama that there’s been relatively little attention on what the Johnson deal will actually mean for the U.K. That’s good for Johnson, since it doesn’t look pretty.

Johnson’s government is refusing to release its assessment of what the deal will mean for the British economy. But a government analysis of a Brexit along these lines predicted last year that it would reduce annual GDP growth by about 6.7 percent compared to staying in the EU—significantly worse than under May’s deal. Real wages could fall by 6.4 percent.

Meanwhile in Ireland, the new Brexit plan prevents the imposition of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which many feared would lead to violence from Irish nationalists. But Johnson’s deal, which he struck over the objections of his former coalition partners, the Democratic Unionist Party, creates a customs border down the Irish Sea and has stoked fears of the opposite problem: violence from unionists who see the deal as a stab in the back.

Even with fears of a no-deal receding—but not entirely gone—this still isn’t going to be easy.

Days until Brexit deadline: ?????