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Closing the Brexit curtains: It's either Boris' Deal or No Deal

Closing the Brexit curtains: It's either Boris' Deal or No Deal
Boris Johnson's Brexit deal is the best yet for the UK - but it's still a bad deal. Politicians on all sides are heading towards the biggest EU showdown of the century on Saturday, and they've got some tough thinking to do.

I always believe that it's best to read what you're talking about first, and then comment upon it afterwards. Politicians quite often do the opposite, like when Jeremy Corbyn famously didn't even bother to read Theresa May's deal before commenting on it.

Having read Johnson's deal, both the Withdrawal Agreement and the new Political Declaration that goes with it, I'm a little stuck - and I'm not the only one. For all the insistence from the European Union and many UK opposition politicians that there would be no meaningful changes to the deal, the prime minister has clearly negotiated a substantially different deal with the EU.

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This is still, from a Brexiteer's perspective, a bad deal, but unlike May's deal, it's not an absolute disaster. It allows the UK to chart a different course to the EU if we so desire. Brexiteers should at the very least consider this to be better than remaining in the EU, and recognize that it is more than May managed to achieve when she was prime minister.

It's a 'Jekyll and Hyde' Brexit deal, unlike May's - which was only Hyde. There are still concerns over the future trading relationship, but phrases like 'continued regulatory alignment' - which would force the UK to continue to legislate in line with new EU laws - are conspicuous in their absence.

The wording on fisheries is deliberately vague. It could mean almost anything. Parts of the Political Declaration require the UK and the EU to 'consider' and 'explore' all kinds of things, from the EU's Space Programme to carbon-trading schemes and EU defence policies, but there's no obligation for us to actually sign on the dotted line. The UK can ignore any and all of that if it wishes. More importantly, the backstop - which could have kept us tied to the EU in perpetuity - has been replaced.

The negatives still persist.

There are worrying provisions requiring co-operation on state aid and public procurement rules. The text suggests that the EU probably won't allow a long-term trading arrangement that allows the UK to deregulate and improve our own competitiveness. And, as ever, there's Northern Ireland. Scrapping the backstop has seen other customs provisions put in its place, which might require some goods to be checked when they cross the Irish Sea. No wonder the DUP is not (at least yet) prepared to vote for it.

This afternoon, Jean-Claude Juncker was dismissive about the possibility of a Brexit extension - and the Benn Act may not be sufficient to convince the EU27 to unanimously support a delay. We are hopefully reaching a High Noon moment in which the UK will leave the EU on October 31st, either with this New Deal or No Deal - discounting, for the moment, any possibility of Parliament legislating to cancel Brexit altogether. In a nutshell, this whole deal leaves everyone with a dilemma:

• Can a Brexiteer who supports a No-Deal Brexit really risk voting against this deal? Would that risk opening the door to a Parliamentary attempt to scrap Brexit altogether before October 31st?

• Can Remainers vote against this deal, knowing that such an action would potentially lead to a No-Deal Brexit?

• Can the former Conservative MPs who were kicked out for voting against No Deal vote against this, or is there a way back into the Party for them if they support it?

• Can the more moderate Labour MPs risk defying their party whip to vote in favour of this deal, if there's a chance that they might meet the same fate as the Conservatives who were suspended for doing the same?

There won't be many politicians in the UK who will sleep easily tonight. There will be a showdown in Parliament on Saturday, and it's not at all clear which way it's going to go. Politics has been chaotic in the United Kingdom for years, but perhaps the final act of this saga has finally begun.

By Jonathan Arnott, a former independent Member of the European Parliament

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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