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Brexit once again, with feeling

Barbara Wesel Kommentarbild App *PROVISORISCH*
Barbara Wesel
October 18, 2019

The EU has another Brexit deal with yet another British government — and it's still unclear whether Parliament will vote for it. It's not the end of the saga, the fiercest battles are yet to come, says Barbara Wesel.

Boris Johnson and Jean-Claude Juncker at a press conference in Brussels
Image: Reuters/F. Lenoir

The EU and the British government have reached an agreement once again. Though there is a mood of excitement in the UK, in Brussels there is a sense of deja vu. That is because we have indeed been here before: One year ago, with the government of Theresa May. As then, the chances of the deal passing in the House of Commons look slim. Many parliamentarians have reservations because they prefer to stay in the EU, or are concerned about Boris Johnson's vision of Great Britain's future being even farther away from Europe than what his predecessor had proposed.

Read more: What's new in this Brexit deal?

Much ado about little

The second time round will be just as difficult to find consensus as the first. And the only reason there is any chance at all is because Ireland's prime minister presented his British colleague with a creative solution to the Irish question. But Boris Johnson understands that in light of the political impasse in London, the only way for him to push through Brexit will be with a deal.

Barbara Wesel
DW's senior European correspondent Barbara Wesel

So, he has made an about face, forgetting his ignorant statements from yesterday and throwing the indivisibility of Northern Ireland that May so vehemently defended under the bus. What has now been agreed to bears great similarity to the Northern Irish backstop initially proposed by the EU in order to avoid a hard border on the island.

Both sides made concessions on the issue, though the British made a few more. The EU conceded that the British province will be allowed to formally leave the customs union. London, on the other hand, had to swallow the bitter pill that Northern Ireland will, nevertheless, be required to abide by EU rules in order to maintain the status quo on both sides of the border. At issue are not only questions of economics and trade, but more fundamentally, those of identity, belonging and the everyday lives of people in the region.

Europeans and the administration in Dublin can live with the compromise. And the Europeans, as they are prone to do, have also scoured the fine print to ensure they can enforce their rights. In the end, it is a pretty good deal for the EU, and at the same time it is one that will allow Boris Johnson to preen about triumph, announcing to the world that he will lead the entire UK out of the EU and will soon be able to take control of everything. That is simply part of the propaganda of Brexit, no matter how untrue it may be.

Read more: What could the Brexit deal mean for the Northern Irish and British economies?

Slim chance of approval

So now there is a deal on the table. Still, its approval in the House of Commons looks very uncertain. Should the Northern Irish DUP decline to accept the deal because it makes too many concessions, Johnson will have lost a few more Brexit hardliners. It also seems doubtful he will be able to win back those Tory parliamentarians he so arrogantly threw out of the party not so long ago. The opposition is, with few exceptions, fundamentally against the deal. Perhaps Boris Johnson will be able to perform a miracle before Saturday evening, but if he can't, the topic of Brexit — which the EU so desperately wants to put behind it — will quickly be back on the table in Brussels.

The Brexit battle is not over, quite the opposite

Among the many false promises of Brexit is the idea that everything will be over as soon as the UK leaves the EU. Many citizens in Britain are pinning their hopes on it — they, too, just want this to end. But that is a fallacy, because the true fight will only then begin. The laboriously negotiated transition period will only last for one year. If the government in London doesn't ask for an extension the UK will be catapulted into uncertainty. Every aspect of future relations will have to be negotiated anew — from air traffic and the permitting of transport trucks, to scientific cooperation and security.

The British are being sold a phony peace. Above all, trade negotiations, in which Boris Johnson envisions as little integration as possible with the EU, could become extremely acrimonious. The EU has shown that it isn't giving anything away. Ultimately, the British people will have to cast votes on whether they see their future as a "Singapore on Thames" — with the dismantling of protections and the deregulation of the financial markets — or not. The question will be whether they prefer a purely Anglo-Saxon economic and living model, or one that is more European. Right now, they still have the opportunity to stop the race to the bottom that Boris Johnson is selling them.

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