THE U.K.’S DIVORCE FROM the European Union is teetering on the edge as lawmakers prepare to vote on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal in an extraordinary session of Parliament on Saturday.
The vote is set to be one of the most dramatic moments of the yearslong Brexit saga and is likely to come down to just a handful of lawmakers. Less than a day beforehand, it was not clear if the plan would prevail.
The path forward is muddy should the plan fail. Lawmakers last month approved a measure requiring Johnson to seek an extension of the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline if there was no deal in place, but Johnson has repeatedly said he will not do so. All member countries of the EU must approve an extension and that, too, is not guaranteed. Without a deal, the U.K. will crash out of the EU on Oct. 31 without provisions in place, though analysts say the likelihood of such a departure appears unlikely.
Johnson, who became prime minister in July, campaigned on delivering Brexit by Oct. 31, deal or no deal. He managed to renegotiate Prime Minister Theresa May’s thrice-rejected Brexit deal with the EU despite the bloc’s repeated statements that it would not be altered. The two sides announced they had reached an agreement on Thursday, setting up Saturday’s vote.
The prime minister has framed the vote as a last-chance effort to push Brexit through and appears to be banking on the waning patience of lawmakers and their constituents.
Without a working majority, Johnson and his Conservative Party will need to sway members of other blocs in order to push the deal through. The bill needs 320 votes to pass.
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The Democratic Unionist Party, a small but crucial voting bloc from Northern Ireland that props up Johnson’s government, has already said its members will not support the new deal. The opposition Labour Party will also be told not to vote for the measure, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said.
Johnson will tell the 287 voting members of his Conservative Party to back the bill, though some hard-line Brexiteers who favor a no-deal exit may not fall in line.
The prime minister will also need the support of 23 former Conservative lawmakers that now sit as independents – including 21 he kicked out of the party after they rebelled against him in September by voting to avoid a no-deal Brexit. Several of the ex-Tories have already announced they will support the deal.
And a handful of Labour lawmakers will be crucial as well. Labour members of Parliament whose constituencies voted for Brexit may be considering backing the measure, though they face pressure from their party to vote it down.
The possibility also exists that a few members of smaller parties will support the deal, as does the chance that lawmakers will abstain completely from the vote. A key amendment floated by a collation of members aimed at delaying the vote may also hamper Johnson’s efforts.
Even if the measure passes, the U.K. still faces a long road ahead with Brexit. Approving the measure is just a first step in a parliamentary process to get the deal into law and subsequent proceedings to shape and implement regulations involving trade and travel.And an extension to the Brexit deadline could still be necessary if delays hold up the process.