British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves the podium after addressing a media conference at an EU summit in Brussels, Oct. 17.
There’s still no guarantee the United Kingdom will leave the European Union by the current Oct. 31 deadline, but Prime Minister
deserves credit for negotiating an exit agreement many wrote off as impossible. The question now is whether he can win over Parliament.
“The negotiators reached an agreement on a revised Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland and on a revised Political Declaration,” European Commission President
wrote in a letter Thursday. He’s referring to negotiations to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland, which is divided between the independent Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K. The 1998 Good Friday Agreement relies on a frictionless border between the two countries.
Mr. Johnson managed to scrap a U.K.-wide backstop, which could have kept the country in the EU customs union indefinitely. Now the backstop essentially is limited to Northern Ireland, and the Northern Ireland Assembly will vote on the arrangement every four years.
Mr. Johnson accepted nonbinding language about maintaining a level-playing field with the EU on competition. This will create tension if London tries to turn the U.K. into a low-tax alternative to the Continent, but that can be dealt with later. The deal isn’t perfect, but neither are the alternatives of another aimless withdrawal extension, an economically damaging no-deal Brexit, or a new referendum that would poison British politics for a generation.
Assembling a majority in the House of Commons will be even more treacherous than the Brussels talks. Former Prime Minister
reached an agreement to leave last year but failed in several attempts to muster a parliamentary majority. Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs voted against her deals. But Mrs. May also alienated her own Conservatives, from Remainers to the pro-Brexit European Research Group. Mr. Johnson faces similar hurdles.
Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party has already said that it opposes the agreement. The Tories relied on the DUP for a majority after Mrs. May’s disastrous snap elections in 2017. Even if Mr. Johnson can unite the Tories—and the deal is getting a cool reception from some Brexiteers—he’ll still need some support from other parties to get a majority.
Attaching a referendum on the deal to the parliamentary legislation is one option. The better choice would be to hold another general election after Brexit. If voters are unhappy with Mr. Johnson’s deal, they can vote for a new government to abandon Brexit or try again.
Mr. Juncker has ruled out an extension of the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline. This makes the Benn Act, which Parliament passed to stop a no-deal Brexit, irrelevant. More important: A hard deadline of Oct. 31—and a binary choice between no deal and Mr. Johnson’s—should focus minds in Parliament.
The best path is to move ahead with the Brexit the British people voted for, and go about making the U.K. a model of prosperity and self-government for the rest of Europe.
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