Brexit process may be entering its fifth act, but final outcome still in doubt

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If it were not for the last minute, nothing would ever get done, but with Brexit, last minutes keep coming without any final resolution. The entire Brexit process, including endless discussions, debates, and prognostications, is fast becoming as certain as death and taxes, but it appears that Boris Johnson, putting all of his “shenanigans” aside, may finally have the votes to make “It” happen, or so say a few insiders.

Although this drama has a way of creating crescendos without the expected and satisfying denouement, once more we find ourselves at “the brink”, and we are being told that a “Deal-Brexit” is close at hand, despite London streets being filled with protesters that object to what the government intends to complete. All the wrangling and threats of job losses, intermixed with the exit of intellectual capital to parts unknown, may finally drop from front-page news. But are we getting the cart ahead of the horse, again?

Where are we now?

After Theresa May had negotiated an initial withdrawal agreement with the EU and then had Parliament send her crashing to flaming destruction, not once, but three times over, the general consensus was that Johnson could do no better. The EU would never consider making any changes. They would prefer that the UK never leave in the first place. But alas, Boris pulled a rabbit out of his bag of tricks, producing a revised agreement on Thursday and demanding a special vote on Saturday.

It was not to be. As the BBC reported:

However, in the first Saturday sitting in the Commons for 37 years, MPs instead voted in favour of an amendment withholding approval of the deal until all the necessary legislation to implement it had been passed.

The vote for an amendment demanding that Johnson adhere to the “Benn Act” was close, 322 to 306. The Benn Act had been passed previously to prevent any overt attempt at a Brexit with “no deal”. The Saturday ruling instructed Johnson and his government to request first an extension from the EU, before there would be any consideration of his bill.

Johnson had already been rebuked once by the Supreme Court for trying to circumvent various requirements under the rule of law, another of this new breed of populist leader that feels compelled to do whatever it takes to get what he wants, even if it means bending the law. Johnson was already on the record, per the Wall Street Journal, that:

He would rather die in a ditch than request an extension”. The NY Times also noted that: “Prime Minister Boris Johnson has adamantly opposed the idea of holding a second Brexit referendum.

May had tried the soft approach. Boris prefers outright aggression.

A letter was promptly drafted requesting an extension, but Boris refused to sign it, his clever way of flaunting the Benn Act. He complied by sending the request, but he also sent a second letter, which he did sign, asking the EU to ignore the first letter. His reasoning is that he needs the pressure of a threatened “No-deal Brexit” to force lawmakers to come to the table and stop dragging their feet. His actual entreaty to the EU states:

A further extension would damage the interests of the U.K. and our EU partners.” Michael Gove, a senior minister in Mr. Johnson’s administration, said to Sky News on Saturday: “We are going to leave on Oct. 31. We have the means and the ability to do so.

The soonest the EU could capitulate would be Thursday, and, even then, a unanimous vote would be necessary to grant an extension. Before any action could be taken, however, the group would need to debate whether to approve or not, and if approved, when to take that action, and how long of a delay to grant. Several EU leaders have spoken out that they do not want further delays, but if they were to delay until April of 2020, that would leave open the option of a new referendum being held on the entire “Leave/Stay” question.

As for what happens next, the Wall Street Journal reported:

Parliamentary approval for the deal, which could come as soon as Monday, would mark a significant political victory for Mr. Johnson and pave the way for the U.K. finally to exit from the EU after more than three years of negotiation and fierce debate. Downing Street would hope to use a win to attempt to race through the final stages of legislative scrutiny of the proposals in time for an Oct. 31 exit.

Does Johnson really have the votes this time around?

It remains to be seen if Johnson’s “double letter” single entendre that disregards the letter of the Benn Act ends up in court and delays the process further still. There are a few legislators that believe Johnson is “in contempt of Parliament or the courts”, a rather unfortunate turn of events, but if ignored, then what other laws may be mangled along the way? Johnson claims that he has complied with the law and that his new deal will be “the greatest single restoration of national sovereignty in parliamentary history.”

The challenge for Boris and his team is to persuade nine lawmakers that voted against him on Saturday to support him on Monday or Tuesday. As a point in fact, 28 lawmakers that voted against May’s proposal are now backing Johnson, and several other recalcitrant Conservatives, who recently exited the party, have come around, too.

As you might expect, there have been many number crunchers busily adding the heads in favor of Boris’s new deal in the background and now believe that he just might pull it off. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. on Sunday:

We seem to have the numbers in the House of Commons.

Maddy Thimont Jack, senior researcher at the Institute for Government, has concluded that the government’s deal has “quite a good chance”.

What do the people think?

The forgotten ones in this debating debacle have been the people of Great Britain, who now feel, after three years of deliberation, that the original Brexit vote was a force-put via heavy-handed marketing types that disguised the true consequences that would come with a split from the EU. Last year at this time, protests in the street drew a few hundred thousand citizens. On Saturday outside the House of Commons, rally organizers are claiming that over one million protesters demonstrated in the streets against Boris Johnson’s proposals and the aggressive nature of his political tactics.

As for the people’s reaction to current discussions, “upset” would be putting it lightly. Nigel Farage, the former United Kingdom Independence Party leader and the person responsible for launching the original Brexit campaign in the UK, told Fox News:

We have this big, hard deadline of Halloween, October 31. We are supposed to leave then. It now looks unlikely that we will, so as you can probably imagine the anger that is building amongst British voters is unlike anything I have ever seen before.

The NY Times gathered these comments from a few attendees:

  • Ollie Lloyd, 42, who was among those protesting: “This is a last-ditch attempt to get them to hear our voices. This is about what kind of country we want to be. Do we want to be an open and tolerant country, or one that is closed off and inward looking?”
  • Ollie’s father, Gil Lloyd, 68, added: “I am just horrified at the whole thing.”
  • Dorothy Milosevic, 63: “The whole thing was sold on a lot of lies. Since that morning when we woke up to find that the leavers had won, it is has been gloom and despondency.”
  • Anoushka Nairac, a student at Magdalen College School: “We came here today because we want to let our voices be heard. My father is an immigrant who set up his own company and provided jobs for citizens. It makes me annoyed; people are not looking at the facts.”

The protest was not a single act by Londoners or the wealthy class, as critics had countered. Support came from all over the UK, as 170 buses delivered protestors from several other parts of the country, including Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland; in Belfast, Northern Ireland; and in Cheltenham, in southern England. Celebrities and former government officials, which included former prime ministers Tony Blair, of the Labour Party, and John Major, a Conservative, were also in attendance.

Concluding Remarks

Mr. Johnson and his staff are expected to appeal for another vote from Parliament as early as today or Tuesday, well before the EU can react to granting any kind of delay. “The quicker, the better” is the thinking at this point or risk one more opportunity for lawmakers to waffle on previous “Leave” commitments.

Will the people’s protest be heard? Greg Brown, 41, an engineer from Middlesbrough, epitomized the feelings of the madding throng: “I am embarrassed to say that there was a big Leave vote in the north east. Europe stands for peace, for multilateral negotiations, workers rights, paternity rights, jobs and free trade. In the three years since the vote, I have not yet heard a decent reason for voting Leave, and here we are standing on a cliff edge.”

One thing seems certain. We will have a vote this week. A “Yes” vote would be a coup for Johnson, but there would follow another process of “further legislative scrutiny”. There will undoubtedly be those that would want to make their mark on the annals of history by proposing an adjustment here or there or even move for a new referendum. A “No” vote would create more uncertainty, and as many pundits have said before, it would be “déjà vu” all over again, “standing on a cliff edge”.

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