With his victory, Johnson takes on the rest of the kingdom
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Boris Johnson made it after four and a half years – he brings his Brexit deal through parliament on the last meter. Only the Queen still has to approve the exit from the European Union. But if the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish say no, the next union is at stake.
AWhen Boris Johnson entered the House of Commons on Wednesday morning at 9:52 a.m. local time, the government benches cheered. The prime minister clenches his fist, nods to fellow parliamentary groups. The British Parliament will hardly be debating the Brexit treaty for five hours, which will forever be the basis for relations with the continent. In the afternoon, the result of the vote is certain: 521 MPs vote for the agreement, only 73 against.
It’s a historic day for the UK and the European Union. A good hour earlier, EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and EU Council President Charles Michel signed the contract in Brussels, which provisionally comes into force on Thursday at midnight. Late on Wednesday evening, Queen Elizabeth II was to be the final authority to give the “Royal Assent” agreement, the royal approval.
For Johnson, the most important chapter of his political career to date will come to an end on December 30th: the implementation of Brexit in law, four and a half years after the referendum. At the same moment, a new chapter begins for the prime minister who owes his office to the exit from the EU. If Brexit was the farewell to the union with Europe, which he pushed through with all his might and all tricks, the conservative must now fight for a different union: that of the British, Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish.
The vehemence with which this new fight is being fought will be revealed to Johnson at close range on Wednesday morning. The prime minister has just started his address when the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) jumps up and loudly accuses the government of having sold the Scottish fishermen to Brussels. Ian Blackford is immediately called to order by the “Speaker” who chairs all debates.
As soon as the Scot has sat down, the prime minister himself starts an attack. “I always speak of the SNP as the ‘Scottish nationalist party’. ‘Nationalist’ with a small ‘N’ ”, the English provoked the Scotsman. He fights back passionately: “In the end, it will be the Scots who decide to join the EU. Scotland has always belonged in the heart of Europe and will be there again as an independent state. “
It is Edinburgh’s declared will to lead Scotland out of the United Kingdom by means of another referendum. The SNP government cannot constitutionally initiate the referendum itself. But the upcoming regional election in May, in which the nationalists will win more votes than the Tories and Labor combined, according to the latest polls, will interpret them as a mandate for independence.
Johnson has categorically rejected a second referendum. Meanwhile, his party has been emphasizing remarkably often for some time that any new policy from London is “also in the interests of Scotland”. Because the pressure on Johnson is growing. The foreseeable noticeable consequences of Brexit, the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, paired with an election triumph for the SNP, could become a powerful challenge for the prime minister as early as spring.
But not only the SNP votes against the Brexit deal on Wednesday afternoon. The Northern Irish of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) do so, as do the members of the Welsh Plaid Cymru. The DUP sees itself cut off from Great Britain by the Brexit deal because Northern Ireland is given a special status. In order to keep the politically highly sensitive border between the British north and the Irish south open, EU law continues to apply to the entire Irish island through quasi-membership in the customs union and internal market.
Goods, on the other hand, that will travel from Great Britain to Northern Ireland in the future are subject to controls because they are automatically in the EU internal market. The Northern Irish Unionists do not want to accept this “cutting off” from the British Isles. They also see themselves threatened by proirical forces who see the treaty as a further step towards a unified Ireland.
Wales is also calling for more autonomy
In Wales, too, Brexit has increased the number of those who are demanding, if not independence, much greater autonomy from London. For her nation, the deal “in the midst of the pandemic means trade barriers, it slams the door to their future for our young people and will harm Wales,” said Liz Saville Roberts, MP for the Plaid Cymru party, explaining the Welsh no.
In the end, the number of “non-English” dissenting votes does not change the unequivocal result of this historic vote, with which the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union after 48 years of membership. A majority of the Labor Party also voted in favor of Johnson’s contract because it considers an exit without a contract, a no deal with all the devastating consequences, to be an even worse alternative.
However, the clarity of the vote cannot hide how unclear the future of the United Kingdom with the new year 2021 is. For the Prime Minister and his nation, the real challenge has only just begun.