Johnson Avoids a Brexit Split as Tory Hard-Liners Back Deal

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Boris Johnson looks set to avoid a damaging rebellion in the House of Commons when his trade deal with the European Union is put to a vote on Wednesday, after a prominent group of Brexit hard-liners in his party backed the accord.

The so-called European Research Group of Conservative MPs, who caused so much trouble for former Prime Minister Theresa May in her negotiations with the EU, said in a statement Tuesday that Johnson’s deal “reaffirms the sovereignty of the U.K.” and urged members to vote for it.

The decision means Johnson, who has said the agreement he forged with the bloc on Christmas Eve falls short in key areas including financial services, can be confident he won’t need to rely on the opposition Labour Party to win the vote -- an outcome which could have dented his authority.

Sovereignty lies at the heart of the ERG’s Brexit demands, and, in the four-and-a-half years since the referendum, Tory MPs including Bill Cash and Steve Baker have said they would not accept any role for the European Court of Justice or any provision that prevents the U.K. from making its own laws.

On Tuesday, the group -- which doesn’t publish details of its membership -- said Johnson’s deal clears those hurdles, and accepted that the level playing-field provisions, which dragged out negotiations for months, will not impinge on the U.K.’s sovereignty. It also pointed out that the U.K. could walk away from the deal with 12 months’ notice if it wanted to.

Easy Passage

“Our overall conclusion is that the agreement preserves the U.K.’s sovereignty as a matter of law and fully respects the norms of international sovereign-to-sovereign treaties,” the ERG’s legal group said in the statement.

It means Johnson will not suffer the fate of May, who repeatedly failed to get her own Brexit deal with the EU through Parliament in the face of ERG opposition. A group of 28 so-called Spartans from the ERG voted against her three times and ultimately forced her out of office.

Johnson, though, looks set to be unimpeded in his plan to get the deal through both the House of Commons and the unelected House of Lords on Wednesday.

Instead, it is Labour leader Keir Starmer who faces a significant rebellion after he ordered his own MPs to support the bill. Prominent lawmakers including former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell have urged Starmer not to back Johnson’s deal when it is put to a vote.

Starmer said last week that while Johnson’s agreement is “thin,” voters would not forgive the party if it enabled a no-deal split from the U.K.’s largest trading partner.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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