Special Briefing: Did Boris Johnson Just Defy the Brexit Odds?

- Sommet Européen, conférence de presse accord sur le Brexit. - Europese top, persconferentie akkoord over Brexit * Boris Johnson (UK prime minister) / Jean Claude Juncker (President European Commission) 17/10/2019 pict. Didier Lebrun / © Photo News via Getty Images)

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Why you should care

Because smooth sailing to Brexit is all but assured.

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.

WHAT TO KNOW

What happened? This could be the real deal. Hours before a key EU summit Thursday, British and European officials said they finally reached an agreement on the text of a U.K. withdrawal plan. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was quick to celebrate “a great new deal that takes back control,” the pound sterling spiked to a five-month high against the dollar, and the leaders of the EU’s remaining 27 countries endorsed the deal. Still, the battle for an orderly Brexit on Oct. 31 is far from over. 

Why does it matter? Even before Thursday’s announcement, the deal’s prospects at home appeared questionable. Citing concerns with customs and taxes, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, a key ally of Johnson’s government, announced it won’t support the agreement “as it stands.” The DUP still seems open to negotiating, but it’s not the only obstacle before Johnson, who’s back to where former Prime Minister Theresa May was before her own deal was rejected three times.

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

Domestic disturbance. Since Johnson no longer has a majority in Parliament, and some of his fellow Conservatives won’t back any deal without the DUP’s approval, the party’s support is crucial. Some called their grievance — rooted in worries over how Northern Ireland will be treated compared to the rest of the country — a “body blow” to Johnson. Meanwhile, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is stirring up a ruckus, describing the deal as “even worse” than May’s and calling on lawmakers to reject it when they convene Saturday. The opposition will likely push for a second referendum.

Déjà vu. For his part, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker believes the agreement amounts to a “fair and balanced” deal. But Europe isn’t exactly resting easy, since memories of May’s repeated defeats in Parliament are still fresh. Getting the Brexit deal ratified in Brussels requires Britsh approval first — which means Johnson might need to return to the EU with a request to renegotiate, just like May. That’s why European leaders, eager to move on, are likely asking themselves: Is this another false alarm?

Two-level games. For Johnson, the Brexit drama isn’t just about striking a workable deal that’s best for the U.K. There’s also the small matter of politicking, since a general election is virtually inevitable within the next six months. And he might well emerge from this saga smelling of roses — regardless of whether his deal makes it through Parliament. That’s because he’d have demonstrated his often-doubted commitment to avoiding a no-deal withdrawal and, in his own famous words, “Get Brexit Done.” So with a British public largely fed up with the issue, Johnson’s follow-through could end up paying political dividends and extend his already significant lead in opinion polls.

Money matters. As if the politics of Brexit weren’t nerve-racking enough, its financial consequences seem as precarious as ever. The British pound has bumped up over the last week, but its future health depends on whether Johnson can hammer through his deal this weekend. If so, analysts say the currency could jump to a robust $1.40; but that’s still short of the $1.50 it was trading at before the 2016 referendum. Meanwhile, projections of Brexit’s long-term macroeconomic effects remain unsettling: The London-based Center for European Reform estimates the British economy is already 2.9 percent smaller than it would’ve been if the country voted to remain.

WHAT TO READ

This May Be Leavers’ Last, Realistic Chance to Achieve a Proper Brexit, by Allister Heath in The Telegraph

“They gambled and won by rejecting May’s awful deal. Now they should help the PM achieve the real thing.”

Here’s Why Boris Johnson’s Plans Have Every Chance of Falling Apart, by Tom Kibasi in The Guardian

“Johnson’s deal is predicated on the fiction that Britain has more to gain from new trade deals with faraway countries than from maintaining frictionless trade with our nearest neighbours, which already account for half our trade, as part of the world’s most powerful trading bloc.”

WHAT TO WATCH

Jeremy Corbyn Casts Doubt on PM’s Brexit Deal

“It’s also very important, from the Labour Party’s point of view, to absolutely protect the rights and protections that we’ve obtained through membership of the European Union.”

Watch on Sky News on YouTube:

Barnier: Brexit Deal Is Result of ‘Intensive Work’

“Discussions over the past days have at times been difficult, but have delivered and we have delivered together.”

Watch on BBC on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER

Labor relations. Anxiety over Brexit has apparently spilled over into the workplace: In a recent paper, an international team of economic researchers estimated that it’s led to a drop in worker productivity between 2 and 5 percent.

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