On Thursday, the European Union and Britain announced that they had reached an agreement for Brexit, just two weeks in advance of the October 31st deadline for departing the organization. Britain’s decision to withdraw from the multi-country alliance, the result of a 2016 referendum in which a narrow majority of British citizens voted to leave, has plunged the country into several years of chaos and intragovernmental conflict, as various parties within the country’s Parliament argued vehemently about how to conduct the extraordinarily complicated process of withdrawal. Tensions have only continued to escalate within the country’s government since they promised to implement the results of the referendum, eventually leading to the election of the highly controversial Boris Johnson to Prime Minister, who campaigned on a promise to “get Brexit done,” no matter what.
While all possible scenarios for Brexit are forecasted to have a strongly negative effect on the European economy, with the country’s decision to leave having already led to an economic downturn, the no-deal Brexit scenario is widely considered the worst possible outcome. As such, Johnson’s pledge to leave the EU by October 31st, with or without a deal, has raised alarms within the government and the passing of legislation requiring the Prime Minister to reach an agreement with the EU before leaving. With today’s news, a major hurdle for Boris Johnson has been overcome, though the deal is not official until it passes a vote in Parliament. As previous proposed deals have failed in spectacular fashion to receive a necessary majority vote from members of Parliament, leading to the resignation of then-Prime Minister Theresa May, the future of Brexit is by no means certain.
That being said, the new deal seeks to account for many of the complaints that members of Parliament had about Theresa May’s deal which led to its failure to get through Parliament. Under the revised deal, Northern Ireland will be a part of the U.K. customs territory, instead of being in a separate customs area from the rest of the country, which lawmakers cited as a reason for rejecting the previous deal. The new deal gives a degree of “democratic consent” to Northern Ireland, a part of the U.K. that voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU, as the Northern Ireland assembly will be called to vote on whether to continue this arrangement in the future.
As the potentially disastrous economic consequences of Brexit become more immediate, however, some U.K. lawmakers are instead calling for a second referendum to hopefully undo the decision to leave the E.U. The Labour party, which opposes the Conservative party led by Johnson, is expected to attempt to force another referendum, under the reasoning that having witnessed several years of governmental chaos has caused a majority of the country to favor staying in the European Union. Public opinion polling has shown that a plurality of U.K. citizens believe, in hindsight, that the decision to leave the E.U. was a mistake, and a second referendum could offer these citizens an opportunity to undo the chaotic results of the previous vote.
However, another referendum is unlikely to be conducted before a Parliament vote on whether to accept Johnson’s deal, which is due to be held on Saturday. Though it is difficult to predict the results of Saturday’s vote, members of the opposition party have already publicly criticized the new deal, calling it “a far worse deal than Theresa May’s deal” and raising concerns about its impact on workers’ rights, environmental standards and consumer protection. The U.K.’s membership in the E.U. has long been deeply integrated into the country’s system of government, and as such, concerns about withdrawal apply not only to the European economy but to the impact it could have on the rights and wellbeing of British citizens.