Ever since the British people voted 51-49% in 2016 to leave the European Union, the status of their departure has been in turmoil. Now, almost four years later after numerous delays and extensions from Brussels, the United Kingdom appears poised to finally make their official exit on January 31st. It is fitting that Boris Johnson, one of the most vocal advocates for Brexit, will be the Prime Minister who ushers Britain into this new era, although the road to his crowning achievement has not been simple.
Johnson became PM after his predecessor, Theresa May, resigned following numerous rejections in Parliament of her deal with the EU for post-Brexit relations. Unlike May, who often pressed the importance of negotiating a deal for Britain’s departure, Boris spoke at length about his willingness to leave the Union without a Brexit deal in place. He was elected by the Conservative Party as PM in June 2019, but his plans for a no-deal Brexit were quickly derailed. Shortly before the departure deadline of October 31st Johnson called for a suspension of Parliament until late October to nullify any chances of a Brexit deal passing. The move was highly controversial and eventually ruled illegal as Parliament gathered again on October 8th.
After reconvening, several members of Johnson’s Conservative Party defected and voted with the opposition to pass the Benn Act which forced the government to ask Brussels for an extension if a Brexit deal was not approved.
After this setback Johnson began calling for new general elections hoping to regain his majority in Parliament. The election, held on December 12th 2019, resulted in a landslide victory for the Conservatives who gained 48 seats while their primary rival, the Labour Party, suffered a humiliating turnout, losing 60 seats. This victory gave Johnson the Parliamentary majority he desired, allowing him to declare that Britain would finally leave the European Union in January 2020. Yet this departure will not be the no-deal Brexit that Boris wished for, instead Britain will be departing under a revised version of the deal that Theresa May initially negotiated.
The primary change under Boris’ deal compared with May’s regard the so called “Irish backstop.” The backstop was intended to resolve the border question in Ireland resulting from Britain’s withdrawal and the Republic of Ireland’s status as an EU member-state. Specifically, the backstop was a plan to avoid a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland which would result from the UK’s withdrawal as Northern Ireland is a province of the United Kingdom. A hard border within Ireland was outlawed under the Good Friday Agreement that ended the Troubles. The Troubles were a thirty year ethnic conflict between Ireland and Northern Ireland over the unification of the island. The backstop would have essentially acted as if there was no border between the two nations in Ireland with customs checks between the islands of Ireland and Britain. Johnson’s Brexit deal removes the backstop and institutes a customs border between Ireland and Northern Ireland which might unintentionally inflame Irish nationalist tensions. The new agreement does give the UK the added ability to negotiate its own international trade agreements which was a major complaint regarding May’s Brexit deal.
Though Brexit remains controversial in Britain and Europe, both parties will likely be
relieved to see this saga end. Voters for the withdrawal should be delighted with the deal Johnson put together and EU citizens who generally opposed the withdrawal should be glad it’s actually over. As for the potentially catastrophic results many foretold during the Brexit referendum in 2016, only time will tell how Britain’s departure affects both their economy and