It is important to recall what Mr Johnson said on the possibility of the creation of an internal UK border (for customs purposes) between the mainland UK and Northern Ireland when he was a minister in Mrs May’s government:
“Under no circumstances, whatever happens, will I allow the EU or anyone else to create any kind of division down the Irish Sea or attenuate our union. That is why I resigned over Chequers. It is a terrible moral blackmail it puts on the UK government. We can’t have that.”
However, the deal that his administration has struck with the EU does just that. It leaves Northern Ireland in a de facto customs union with the EU whilst the rest of the UK will diverge from it. Naturally, his erstwhile friends in the DUP are furious with him and have vowed that they will cast their 10 votes against the deal when it comes up on a special parliamentary session on Saturday. The ERG faction of the Conservative Party have long claimed that they would not back a deal that the DUP couldn’t support, but it looks as if most of the bloc will do just that tomorrow.
Opponents of the deal claim that it is worse than the deal Mrs May negotiated that parliament rejected three times (the last just before the original Brexit deadline of March 29th), threatens the union of the UK and provides a pathway for the government to strip away workers rights and erode standards and protections. All of the opposition parties are united in saying that they will oppose the deal, but some of their MPs are thought likely to ignore their wishes and vote with the government. Of the 21 Conservatives who Johnson expelled from the party for voting against it some are likely to back a deal, but certainly not all.
Supporters of a further referendum (popularly known as a “People’s Vote”) have backed away from trying to amend Saturday’s bill to include it as a condition of the bill’s passage. The wisdom is that if the bill is voted down then more MPs will be inclined to support a further referendum as the most viable mechanism to resolve Brexit. Polling suggests that the UK would vote to remain in the EU now, given the chance.
A final wrinkle today is a legal challenge to tomorrow’s vote on the basis that the act breaches legislation (tabled by the ERG) which makes it illegal for Northern Ireland to be in a different customs regime than the rest of the country. On the face of it, the case has merit.