London, United Kingdom – United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s bid to win parliamentary support for his revised Brexit withdrawal deal is poised on a knife-edge before “super Saturday”, when British MPs will take part in one of the more significant votes in recent UK politics.
All bets are off after the prime minister spent Friday horse-trading for support after reaching a deal with the European Union to ensure the UK exits the bloc on the October 31 deadline – seemingly removing the threat of a “no-deal” departure that economists say would be disastrous.
Johnson insists he is confident of winning the rare Saturday sitting, but a handful of votes could decide the outcome in a deeply divided parliament.
Although Brexit fatigue will likely influence how many vote, hardline Brexiters say a “no-deal” scenario remains possible even if they back a deal.
Conservative John Baron told the BBC that if trade talks with the EU during a Brexit transition period are unsuccessful, the UK would proceed on “no-deal” terms that merely obey World Trade Organization tariff rules.
David Jeffery, a lecturer in British politics at the University of Liverpool said: “The withdrawal agreement is about the next step – but not a destination in terms of the UK’s future relations with the EU.
“The most important thing about this Baronite argument is that once we have left, we’ve left – legally we are a third party, so if the UK decides to walk away from negotiations, we would be legally allowed to do so.”
David Phinnemore, professor of European politics at Queen’s University Belfast, believes Baron’s argument could be a factor limiting support for Johnson’s deal among MPs tempted to vote for any kind of deal after two years of divisive delays.
“Can we really say that 48 hours is enough time for parliamentarians to really sit down and work through what the implications of the agreement are and consider their respective positions?” he said.
“This has been pushed through very quickly and probably without due cognizance being taken of the likely impact of the deal.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel piled further pressure on Johnson by offering a lifeline to his opponents – telling other EU leaders that a second Brexit extension is unavoidable if MPs ditch his plan.
A surprise amendment by the Conservative Oliver Letwin would force the PM to ask for a delay to Brexit even if MPs vote for his deal.
Several groups of MPs have become the main focus of attention in Saturday’s vote.
Johnson has lost the backing of Northern Ireland’s small Democratic Unionist Party – whose support has kept the ruling Conservative Party in government since 2017 – which rejects the compromise he made in Brussels on its customs status.