The Irish Times view on the Westminster vote: A hard Brexit – and a tough call

There is a strong argument for putting Johnson’s deal to a public vote

The deal that British prime minister Boris Johnson will table in the House of Commons today is very far from a soft Brexit. Photograph: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

The deal that British prime minister Boris Johnson will table in the House of Commons today is very far from a soft Brexit. Photograph: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

 

British MPs will gather at Westminster on Saturday to vote on a deal that would bring an end to the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union almost half a century after it joined the bloc.

Leaving aside for a moment the fevered speculation about parliamentary arithmetic or the provisions of the latest iteration of the withdrawal agreement, the vote, and the gathering sense that Brexit is now entering the endgame, make this a profoundly sad moment – for Ireland, for the European Union and for the millions of Britons who saw their future at the heart of the European project.

It is a defeat for the liberal, progressive ideals that held sway in Britain for much of the past half-century; for all the bluster about Global Britain, this is unmistakably a retreat rather than an opening up to the world. Ireland is losing an important ally at the EU table. And, awkward as the UK may have been at times, the EU itself will be diminished by it s loss.

Now, for the first time, the British people can see what Brexit actually looks like

It’s also worth stressing that what Boris Johnson will table in the House of Commons today is very far from a soft Brexit. If approved, it will drag Britain out of the single market and the customs union, an outcome that will harm its economic prospects and pointlessly deprive it of one of the most attractive benefits of EU membership: access to the biggest trading zone in the world.

BREXIT: The Facts

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Britain didn’t vote for that; indeed, many leading Leave campaigners indicated during the referendum campaign that it would never happen. In that respect, Brexit itself is a type of betrayal.

Thanks to the revised deal agreed between Johnson’s government and the EU27, Northern Ireland will in effect remain in the EU customs union, obviating the need for a hard border. That’s good news.

But while the DUP may have overplayed its negotiating hand and missed opportunities to agree a deal more to its liking, the party’s disappointment will complicate efforts to restore the political institutions in Belfast, and the relationships ruptured by Brexit in the North over the past three years will take a long time to repair.

Given all of this, it seems counter-intuitive, if not preposterous, to suggest that Johnson’s deal is worth supporting. It’s certainly not a good outcome. But, in the circumstances, it’s not hard to see why many MPs will conclude it is the least worst option. If the vote passes, however, that ought not to be the end of it.

There is a strong argument for putting Johnson’s deal to a confirmatory vote – one in which remain would also appear on the ballot paper. Now, for the first time, the British people can see what Brexit actually looks like.

Equipped with that knowledge, they should have the opportunity to say whether they approve or not. A public vote would prolong Britain’s current anguish, but that’s a small price to pay for a decision that will upend the country and its place in the world.

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