Monday 23 September 2019

Explainer: What’s the latest Brexit turmoil - and what does it mean for Ireland?

Boris Johnson’s plan to suspend the UK parliament was approved by the queen. Photo: Reuters
Boris Johnson’s plan to suspend the UK parliament was approved by the queen. Photo: Reuters
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

What’s going on?

The fallout from Boris Johnson’s extraordinary decision to suspend parliament - known as proroguing - for nearly five weeks is ongoing with no shortage of outrage from UK politician. There is also a growing realisation in Dublin that this moves the UK perilously close to a no-deal in nine weeks’ time.

Can anything or anyone stop Boris Johnson?

Gina Miller, a prominent anti-Brexit campaigner, has filed an urgent application for a legal challenge to prevent the suspension of parliament. Meanwhile, lawyers acting for the Scottish National Party’s Joanna Cherry and 74 other MPs are mounting a challenge in the Scottish courts with the hearing brought forward to today. Meanwhile, a petition calling for parliament not to be suspended has reached more than 1.3 million signatures.

Anything else happening?

The leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson has resigned citing the conflict she feels over Brexit - she was a prominent Remainer - and a desire for a better balance between working and family life.

Read More: Boris Johnson in grab for control as hard Brexit threat increases

Remind me why suspending parliament is such a big deal?

Mr Johnson is suspending parliament for far longer than any recent suspensions and at a time when MPs had planned to spend the coming weeks debating and voting on various options to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

The PM denies that this his attempt to stymie that, insisting there will be ample time for Brexit debates before Parliament is suspended on or around September 11 and after it reconvenes on October 14th with Brexit due to happen on October 31st. But his opponents argue otherwise, the former deputy prime minister David Lidington said it was “not a good way to do democracy” this morning. Even the supposedly neutral House of Commons speaker John Bercow described this as a “constitutional outrage”.

What has been the Irish government reaction?

The most fascinating insight came from junior finance minister Michael D’Arcy who compared Mr Johnson to Oliver Cromwell in a now-deleted tweet. Mr D’Arcy’s outburst on social media prompted a slap-down from government colleagues. European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee said his comments were “not reflecting Government policy”. Although she did add that they “reflected” a “frustration that many people have here”.

Officially, the government position is not to involve itself in what is effectively an internal UK political matter, but there is no shortage of officials and ministers who privately speculate this is Mr Johnson’s grand plan to force an election. This is largely in the hope that an election might prompt Mr Johnson to eventually accept the Brexit deal or that the UK government will elect a PM who will.

Read More: Michael D'Arcy slapped down by Helen McEntee for comparing Boris Johnson to Oliver Cromwell

This seems pretty optimistic...

It sure does. Mr Johnson has repeatedly called for the withdrawal deal to be reopened and the backstop stripped out or else he'll take the UK out of the EU without a deal. He has not rowed back from this at any point since taking office.

So how are those no-deal preparations going?

No-deal is now the central scenario being pursued by the Irish government which means the Budget is likely to include support for sectors of the economy most-affected by a no-deal Brexit. Ministers acknowledge that the latest developments in Westminster make a no-deal Brexit more likely.

But even with that we still don’t know exactly what a hard Brexit means for the border and how Ireland will honour EU rules and regulations and maintain the seamless border that exists today. It is likely there will be customs checks and controls taking place away from the border at ports and factories.

But the details are sparse and that is worrying everyone with 63 days’ to go.

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