British and European negotiators announced they had arrived at a new Brexit deal Thursday to facilitate the U.K.’s departure from the European Union. Most of the new agreement is the same as previous ones negotiated by then-Prime Minister Theresa May; the U.K. will still formally leave the EU, but will transition out economically by continuing to abide by EU rules until the end of 2020 (and possibly longer). The only substantive changes came in relation to the future of Northern Ireland.
The deal’s announcement comes two weeks before the next deadline of Oct. 31, by which time new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged the country will exit the EU one way or another. The draft of the deal still faces significant hurdles in Parliament, which passed a law requiring an exit deal to be agreed upon by Oct. 19, otherwise the country must ask for an extension to the negotiation.
Despite still needing to wrangle domestic support, Johnson claimed victory tweeting: “We’ve got a great new deal that takes back control—now Parliament should get Brexit done on Saturday so we can move on to other priorities like the cost of living, the [National Health Service], violent crime and our environment.” European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker also took to Twitter to laud the last-minute agreement: “Where there is a will, there is a #deal—we have one! It’s a fair and balanced agreement for the EU and the UK.”
The revised deal updates the negotiated settlement made by Johnson’s predecessor on how to deal with Northern Ireland after the U.K.’s departure. The overlapping commitments binding Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom and to the Republic of Ireland (an EU member state) as part of the Good Friday peace accord have made it a sticking point in negotiations. The importance of Northern Ireland’s future role is amplified by the Democratic Unionist Party’s power within the Johnson-led government. The DUP’s 10 seats have been critical to the Tory Party’s hold on power, a role they leveraged to scuttle previous Brexit deals put before Parliament. Johnson’s strong-arm parliamentary tactics since he assumed control have prompted an exodus of MPs from his party, leaving the Tories with an even more tenuous hold on power and a minority government, likely needing the DUP’s support to get the deal approved.
The DUP has indicated it will not support the new agreement that offers significant concessions from the previous deals voted down in Parliament. “Essentially, Mr. Johnson’s proposed agreement would leave Northern Ireland aligned with European Union laws and regulations on most trade issues, even as it moved out of the European single market and into a customs union with Britain,” the New York Times explains. “Under the proposed terms, there would be customs checks on goods flowing from Britain to Northern Ireland to ensure that they meet the rules if those goods were ultimately destined for the European Union.”
The DUP, a pro-U.K. Protestant party, fundamentally does not support any agreement that differentiates the country from the rest of the U.K. for fear that loosening its British ties will pave the way for its eventual departure and reintegration into the Republic of Ireland. Without the DUP’s support, Johnson would need a number of Labour MPs and a large chunk of the 21 MPs that were chucked out of the Tory Party last month to support the deal. So far, that seems unlikely. “From what we know, it seems the prime minister has negotiated an even worse deal than Theresa May’s, which was overwhelmingly rejected,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said of the deal. “This sell-out deal won’t bring the country together and should be rejected. The best way to get Brexit sorted is to give the people the final say in a public vote.”
The European Parliament will have to ratify the agreement, which is expected to happen in a far smoother manner than the approval process in Westminster. The U.K. government is pushing for a vote in a special session of Parliament Saturday, a high stakes political gamble that could see the deal voted down. If that happens, it would follow that the U.K. would, by law, request an extension from Brussels. Johnson, however, has pushed a my-deal-or-no-deal narrative in hopes of persuading MPs to his side in order to prevent economic upheaval. Johnson has also urged Brussels to signal they will reject any extension request in order to help get the new deal approved.