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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Explained: Tories get a huge majority, what next for the Brexit process?

Commentators in the British media were saying that with a stronger majority than the one he inherited from Theresa May earlier this year, Johnson may feel emboldened to show some of his main opponents in the Conservative Party their place.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: December 14, 2019 10:05:50 am
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street to travel to Buckingham Palace, London, to meet with Queen Elizabeth II on Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. (AP Photo)

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson has won the biggest parliamentary majority since Margaret Thatcher in 1987, and Home Secretary Priti Patel has announced that the government will, as the Conservative Party repeatedly promised during the campaign, move quickly to “get Brexit done” — “Get it done before Christmas, introduce the legislation and get that moving in Parliament”.

So what happens next in the United Kingdom?

Johnson is expected to go to Buckingham Palace later on Friday (December 13), where the Queen will ask him to form the government. Thereafter, as is the tradition, he will go back to the Prime Minister’s official residence, 10 Downing Street, and make a speech outside the famous door.

The assignment of Cabinet portfolios will likely begin immediately, and may be concluded over the weekend. Commentators in the British media were saying that with a stronger majority than the one he inherited from Theresa May earlier this year, Johnson may feel emboldened to show some of his main opponents in the Conservative Party their place.

The newly elected MPs will gather in Parliament on Tuesday (December 17), where they will take oath.

While this process normally takes place over a few days, it will be completed in two days so that the customary Queen’s Speech (like the President’s Address in India) can be held on Thursday (December 19). It has been announced that the formal opening of Parliament will take place with “reduced ceremonial elements”.

And what will be the next steps on Brexit?

That is what this election was about, and the Prime Minister has promised to quickly push through Parliament the Withdrawal Agreement giving consent to his Brexit deal.

Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) will be introduced within days, to act as an “early Christmas present” for the public. The first reading of the Bill could take place on Friday (December 20) itself.

If the tradition of Parliament rising for Christmas recess is adhered to, MPs will come back early next year to pass the Bill. They will have until the deadline of January 31 to get the Bill through both Houses of Parliament.

Once Parliament has passed the Bill, the European Parliament will need to ratify the Brexit deal at its end.

That done, Britain will be out of the EU.

A British delegation will thereafter begin talks on a trade deal that will define the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

Separate delegations will begin talks on trade deals with other countries as well, including India.

Is there a way back into the EU for the UK?

Technically, yes. But it won’t be easy.

A second referendum, which might conceivably return a “Remain” vote, is possible, if MPs vote for it. Such a vote would revoke the 2016 referendum — mark a change of mind for Britain — and cancel the notice it has given to the EU that it is leaving.

But a huge majority for a government led by a leading Brexiteer (Johnson) makes that possibility extremely remote.

If Brexit is passed on January 31, Britain will leave the EU under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty (even though there will still be a transition period).

Should the UK want to come back into the EU after leaving, it will have to reapply for membership under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty.

It would have to satisfy all the conditions needed to be a EU member, and would have to obtain the approval of the European Council, the European Commission, and the European Parliament.

And even if all of this might appear technically possible, it remains difficult to imagine things would go this way after all that has happened.

Those who voted Remain will probably have to live with the decision that a slightly larger number of their countrymen made in the referendum of 2016.

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