Boris Johnson's 'Battle for Brexit' has begun.
The stakes are high: For his plan to succeed, he needs both Parliament and the EU ministers to buy into the notion that it's either this deal, or no deal. But as he tries to sell the deal, Johnson is discovering that more MPs share his concerns that Brexit might never get done, and that it's time to put it to rest for good. Even though many in Parliament remain skeptical.
Once again, the DUP will leave another Tory prime minister hung out to dry by opting to vote against the deal. For Johnson, this must be an especially painful disappointment, since the DUP and its leader, Arlene Foster, had sent some signals that they would reluctantly back his 'imperfect' plan if he could sell it to Brussels.
EU ministers voted to unanimously back the deal yesterday after Jean-Claude Juncker had given it his blessing. Now, Johnson is turning his attention to an even greater obstacle: Parliament.
His predecessor, Theresa May, infamously tried - and failed - to pass her withdrawal agreement, which preserved the hated Irish Backstop, three times. Johnson only has one chance if he hopes to both take the UK out of the EU with a deal while avoiding another Article 50 delay. Because although French President Emmanuel Macron again made some noises about refusing to support another extension, few doubt that the EU would if Johnson was compelled, by law, to ask for one.
Passing the deal would require votes from at least six opposition MPs who aren't already expected to support Johnson's plan, which is why the PM will almost certainly spend the bulk of his time this weekend trying to drum up support for the deal instead of focusing on the EU Council summit in Brussels.
According to Bloomberg, a loss could unleash a political crisis as Johnson has repeatedly refused to say he would go along with asking for another delay on Oct. 31. However, any attempt to leave without a deal would face a legal challenge thanks to the Benn Act, a law passed by Parliament last month over Johnson's objections. The law requires Johnson to ask for an extension if Parliament hasn't voted for a withdrawal deal by end of the day Oct. 19 (hence, the historic Saturday vote this weekend. Parliament hasn't sat on a weekend since the early 1980s at the outset of the Falklands War).
and he may have to allow his plans to be tested in a general election or even a second referendum. Per BBG, to win, Johnson needs to pick up roughly 61 votes from a pool of about 75 MPs who are believed to be persuadable. According to the Westminster rumor mill, the 'Spartans', the group of intransigent Tories who ultimately killed May's deal, are falling in line, which is a critical win for Johnson.
Though many suspect that the DUP is simply trying to extort more public money for Northern Ireland in what may have described as a 'bribe'. To be sure, there's been no indication yet from Johnson that he would up the money. The party said in a letter published yesterday that it opposed the deal because it opposed any kind of customs barrier in the Irish Sea (Johnson's plan cleverly evades the need for barriers and checks, but it would still create a new customs zone for the North).
However, the opposition now supports a 'confirmatory referendum', which many 'remain' ministers would prefer. Then again, this is just one more reason for those who voted in favor of Brexit to accept Johnson's deal: If Labour wins the inevitable snap election, they could call that referendum.