Boris Johnson prepares to take back control in 2016 (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson prepares to take back control in 2016 (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

PoliticsOctober 18, 2019

Cheat sheet: Boris Johnson seals a Brexit deal – what does it mean, and what next?

Boris Johnson prepares to take back control in 2016 (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson prepares to take back control in 2016 (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Britain and the EU have agreed new terms for divorce. But with the Conservatives’ Northern Irish support party unimpressed, can the British prime minister at last put an end to the interminable shitstorm?

At last, a deal! A palpable deal! A path out of the endless brain-melt!

“Where there is a will, there is a #deal,” tweeted idiom and hashtag loving European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. “We have one!”

The British prime minister, Boris Johnson, bravely eschewed hashtags, tweeting: “We’ve got a great new deal that takes back control.”

So it’s a done deal?

Definitely not a done deal. The declaration (the legal text is still to come; the political declaration is here) requires the backing of the 27 EU leaders. Juncker urged them to come on board, saying, “It is high time to complete the withdrawal process and move on, as swiftly as possible, to the negotiation on the European Union’s future partnership with the United Kingdom.”

And then it’s a done deal?

It also has to be ratified by both the British and European parliaments.

How new is it?

Mostly, it’s familiar. In large part the same deal agreed by Theresa May – which was rejected repeatedly by the UK parliament. But it offers a different approach to the problem of what to do about the Irish border.


The new deal does away with the “backstop” agreement, which had been designed to avoid a scenario in which a hard border would spring back into the still-fragile peace of Ireland, the north out of the EU free-market, the Republic in. Johnson and his allies found such a measure unacceptable, and the new deal instead conjures an alternative: a “formal” but invisible border between the Republic and of Ireland and Northern Ireland, while creating what some are calling a “de facto border” between Great Britain (ie the British mainland) and Northern Ireland, for customs and goods purposes.

How does that work?

The EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, told a press conference, “Northern Ireland will remain aligned to a limited set of EU rules notably relating to goods [which] means that all applicable procedures on goods will take place at points of entry into Northern Ireland and not across the island.”

Any problems with that fudge?

The most immediate practical problem is that the Democratic Unionist Party is very much not into it.

Who? And why not?

The DUP is a rightwing, unionist party that props up the Conservative Party in the UK parliament. It is opposed to the whole de facto border across the Irish Sea malarkey, which would threaten, in its view, the strength of the United Kingdom. It insists that any Brexit deal will need a vote of support at the Stormont Assembly, the governing body in Northern Ireland.

How important are those DUP votes?

According to calculations by the BBC, early on Friday morning NZ time, without the DUP support, the deal would currently fail by about five votes. It will play out in a parliamentary showdown on Saturday.

Will it be a heart-stopping, hard-rocking, earth-quaking, justifying, death-defying day in the British parliament?


What about the Benn Act?

Great question. Under the ‘Benn Act’, enacted by a Commons majority last month, the government is obliged to seek a three-month Brexit delay unless it can pass a deal or get MPs to approve a no-deal exit by Saturday. Even by the standards of Brexit to date, it promises to be a day to remember.

What about Nigel Farage?

Farage, a prominent, hoorah Brexiteer and leader of the Brexit Party, is not keen. “We will never be able to properly break free of the EU if we sign up to this,” he said. He’d prefer a new election. “It’s just not Brexit …It should be rejected.”

What does the UK opposition say?

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn says it’s a worse deal than that struck by Theresa May. Labour’s position on Brexit has been as lucid as mushy peas, but its current stance is that it a new referendum should confirm any deal that is reached.

It is possible that Boris Johnson fully expects the deal to be rejected and hope to use the showdown on Saturday as a means to finally trigger a general election?

A lot of people think that’s been the plan all along. Recent polling suggests he’d return with a proper, workable, governing majority.

Given the utter bedlam presided over by consecutive Conservative leaders, is it really pretty terrifyingly amazing that Labour is still so unpopular?

There are a lot of complexities.

Answer the question.

Yes it is.

Are the leaders of the EU basically just over it and want to just cut the cord and be done with it?

That’s one way of looking at it.

The Brexit debate will occur on the same day as the first Rugby World Cup knock-out round. How will it affect the quarter-finals involving New Zealand, Ireland, England, Australia, South Africa, Japan, Wales and France?

It won’t. Did you include that question for the sole purpose of search engine optimisation?


Illustrations by Sharon Lam

A letter to my future dog

Sharon Lam corresponds with the canine love of her life.
Mad Chapman, Editor
The Spinoff has covered the news that matters in 2021, most recently the delta outbreak. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

Get The Spinoff
in your inbox