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Brexit Deal: What is at stake today?

While today, most of the country is getting on with a normal Saturday, MPs will be making a decision which will have a huge impact on the future of the UK.

THE DEAL

So what is the deal? In truth, it is not a million miles from Theresa May’s deal which was defeated three times at the start of this year.

The main difference is that the infamous “backstop”, designed to stop tensions at the British border in Ireland, has been replaced by a more permanent arrangement for Northern Ireland … one which would effectively see it with a foot in both the EU and the UK. Supporters say it is a neat solution which gives Northern Ireland the best of both worlds. Critics say it amounts to abandoning part of the UK, claiming it would even spark the breakup of the country.

On this, it is remarkable how much ground Boris Johnson has given to the EU - in fact it is quite close to the EU’s own original plan right at the start of the whole thing. A “sensible compromise” or a “surrender”? The answer will depend on your own view of Brexit and Boris.

Credit: PA

Another difference with Theresa May’s deal is that a lot of the details about trade rules and regulations, have now been watered down and moved outside of the Deal and into the “Political Declaration”, which is really just a wish list .. not legally binding. This is a clever move, because it creates space for MPs to imagine their own favoured outcome in the future, anything from a big free trade agreement to a no-deal Brexit.

While there are some MPs who enthusiastically support the deal (“Good enough to eat” says Jacob Rees-Mogg), many seem to think that it’s not perfect but it might have to do. That’s quite some achievement by the Prime Minister, given where we were a couple of weeks ago.

WILL IT GET THROUGH PARLIAMENT?

It has been almost impossible to predict the Brexit saga, but at the moment, it seems the deal will pass. Although Boris Jonson has lost the support of his allies - the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland - he should be able to make the votes up elsewhere.

Hardline Midlands Brexiters such as Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) and Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) say they won’t decide until this morning. They consistently voted down Theresa May’s deal, and were hoping for a much “harder” Brexit. But they have been making some positive noises and it’s thought they will vote in favour.

At the other end of the Tory Party, Margot James (Stourbridge) who was chucked out by Boris Johnson just a few weeks ago, says she will vote for his deal, along with many of the other “Tory Rebels”. Former Labour MP for Dudley North - now an anti-Corbyn independent - Ian Austin will vote for the deal. As will Labour’s John Mann (Bassetlaw), who has generally voted in favour of Brexit bills in any case.

The people with all of the power today are the twenty or so Labour MPs who usually vote with their party, but who have said they want a deal. The Prime Minister only needs to win over a handful of them to secure the win.

Ashfield Labour MP Gloria de Piero at the launch of Credit: PA

Among them .. Gloria de Piero (Ashfield). She hasn’t yet publicly committed, but has been dropping hints on Twitter that she might vote with the Government.

Others include two Labour MPs from Stoke on Trent, Ruth Smeeth and Gareth Snell. Again, no public undertaking from either, but they would seem likely to vote with Boris Johnson

And Johnson’s last minute commitments on workers’ rights might just tip enough Labour MPs into his column.

SO, VICTORY FOR BORIS JOHNSON THEN?

Not quite.

MPs can add amendments onto whatever passes today, and there is one amendment which could change everything.

It was put forward by Sir Oliver Letwin who actually supports Boris Johnson’s deal. But his amendment says the House of Commons should withhold support until all of the laws and votes needed to get it through are passed. He says this would make sure we don’t accidentally “crash out” without a deal at the end of this month. It’s an insurance policy.

But if it passes, Boris Johnson would be compelled by law to ask for an extension to the Brexit process TONIGHT. We would NOT be leaving on 31st October even if he goes on to win the main vote on his deal.

Of course Oliver Letwin and people like Margaret Beckett (Derby South), Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) and Nick Boles (Grantham & Stamford) who have all signed up to it, say it’s because this is a big decision and we need to take the time to properly consider the deal in detail. But it would be a huge blow to Johnson.

Derby South MP, Margaret Beckett is supporting an amendment which would force the PM to request a Brexit extension this evening, Credit: PA

It would also leave scope for opposition parties to make more changes, or force a referendum on the final deal. In many ways, it is this vote - on the amendment - which is the one to look out for. Not the main deal.

DOES THE DEAL FINISH BREXIT?

No. Not by a long way I’m afraid. Even if Boris Johnson’s deal sails through Parliament unhindered.

Yes, we would technically be out of the EU on 31st October, but still a kind of associate member during a transition period.

The arguments then would be about whether to extend the transition to let us complete a Free Trade Deal in time. If not, we might face a No Deal Brexit in December 2020. If anything the arguments in the run-up to that “cliff edge” would be even more fraught.

And IF we left with no deal at that point - even if we assume the warnings have been overblown and the economy is ok - much of the next few years would be dominated by arguments over trade arrangements. For some that would be an exciting period of the UK - back on the international stage - exerting its power. But however you slice it, it would mean that the long-running Brexit divisions and arguments will continue to for many many years, whatever happens today.

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