BRUSSELS — Britain and the European Union on Thursday agreed on the draft text of a Brexit deal, setting up a fateful showdown in the British Parliament on Saturday, where it was not clear that Prime Minister Boris Johnson could marshal the votes to nail down his plan after three anguished and politically damaging years of debate.
But Mr. Johnson may already be thinking beyond whether Parliament approves his plan. Even if he loses, analysts say, he may call for a general election, hoping voters will rally behind him and deliver him a strong majority.
However it comes out, it all suggests a recipe for continued political tumult over at least the next weeks and months.
The statement argued that it would hurt Northern Ireland’s economy and undermine the integrity of the Union. The 1998 agreement, also known as the Good Friday Agreement, halted deadly sectarian violence and established a truce with the British government.
The opposition Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, urged members of Parliament to reject the deal, saying, “It seems the prime minister has negotiated an even worse deal than Theresa May’s.”
But Prime Minister Leo Varadkar of Ireland backed the deal, writing on Twitter that the draft agreement was “good” for Ireland and Northern Ireland. “No hard border. All-island and East-West economy can continue thrive. Protects Single Market & our place in it,” he added.
Mr. Johnson was ebullient on Thursday in a news conference alongside Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president. “This deal represents a very good deal both for the E.U. and for the U.K.,” he said. “And it’s a reasonable fair outcome.”
For his part, Mr. Juncker said: “I’m happy about the deal, but I’m sad about Brexit.”
Mr. Johnson appears to be betting that he can cobble together enough votes from lawmakers who are fed up with the endless wrangling and may view his deal, however imperfect, as better than any alternative.
It is a breathtaking gamble by a buccaneering leader who has already upended Britain’s political establishment in his quest to take Britain out of the European Union — shutting down Parliament for several weeks, purging rebels in his Conservative Party and drawing a rare rebuke from Britain’s Supreme Court.
Mr. Johnson’s agreement also hinges on winning the approval of the leaders of the 27 other European Union members, who gathered in Brussels on Thursday for a two-day summit meeting. That seemed simpler, given the significant concessions that Britain made in days of frantic negotiations, mainly over how to treat Northern Ireland.
“We’ve got a great new deal that takes back control,” Mr. Johnson said earlier Thursday as he prepared to fly to Brussels. He assured European leaders that he would be able to win approval for it in Parliament.
Mr. Juncker praised the draft deal as a “fair and balanced agreement for the E.U. and the U.K.,” and expressed confidence that it would pass muster with the leaders.
Mr. Johnson may also be gambling that the European Union, anxious to wash its hands of Brexit, will refuse to give Britain another extension, confronting Parliament with the difficult choice of embracing this deal or crashing out of Europe on Oct. 31 with no deal at all — a scenario that experts have warned would lead to chaos at the border, economic hardship for many and civil unrest in Northern Ireland and possibly elsewhere.
Alternatively, if he is defeated in a Parliament vote expected on Saturday, Mr. Johnson is likely to renew his call for a general election, arguing that he did everything he could to leave by Oct. 31 and that should the voters back him.
There are other scenarios, including a second referendum on Britain’s European Union membership, which was gaining support this week, and a Conservative election flop that could topple Mr. Johnson and possibly hand control to Mr. Corbyn, the Labour leader.
But nobody really knows how things will pan out. “We have one step forward, in that we’re talking about something substantive,” said Sam Lowe, a senior research fellow at the Center for European Reform, a research group in London. “But we still really have no idea where this is all going to land.”
Under the terms of the agreement, Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, would leave the European Union’s single market and join a separate customs union with Britain. But it would remain closely aligned with a maze of European rules and regulations, which would allow seamless trading to continue with Ireland, a member of the European Union.
The deal that Mr. Johnson struck is not radically different from a proposal Europe first made to Britain in early 2018, although that deal would have kept Northern Ireland legally part of the European customs union. Mr. Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, rejected that proposal, saying that it threatened the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom and that “no U.K. prime minister could ever agree to it.”
At the time, Mrs. May was hemmed in by the Democratic Unionists, who propped up her Conservative-led minority government and exerted a strong influence over the hard-line, pro-Brexit faction of the Conservative Party. The party rejected any deal that distinguished Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom, which it saw as a first step toward Irish unification.
Mr. Johnson, an outspoken proponent of leaving the European Union, somewhat diluted that influence, having earned the trust of hard-liners in his party. Yet, in the process of building that trust, he vowed to leave Europe by Oct. 31, even without a deal. That set off a rebellion in his own party and a vote by Parliament to force him to ask for an extension if he did not produce a deal.
Facing that prospect, Mr. Johnson proved to be an energetic negotiator, willing to make compromises where necessary. Britain moved closer to Europe’s insistence that there be no hard Irish border, offering a flurry of proposals about how to allow near-frictionless trade between two jurisdictions.
But Mr. Johnson insisted that Northern Ireland remain legally part of a British customs union, which he viewed as critical to keeping the support of the D.U.P. As his envoys haggled over terms in Brussels, Mr. Johnson met with a parade of unionists and other skeptics.
Hopes for a deal surged early this week, in part because there was little public dissent from the Democratic Unionists. A hard-line Brexit group in the Conservative Party, the European Research Group, voiced cautious support for Mr. Johnson’s plan. But as the language in the draft text became public, the Democratic Unionists quickly broke with Mr. Johnson.
“As things stand, we could not support what is being suggested on customs and consent issues, and there is a lack of clarity on VAT,” the party’s leaders said on Thursday in a statement, referring to the value-added tax.
It followed that up with another, stronger statement, claiming the draft agreement “drives a coach and horses through the professed sanctity” of the Good Friday peace accord and would hurt the region’s and undermine the integrity of the United Kingdom.
With approval from the European Union reasonably sure, the attention was thus shifting to the British Parliament, which is expected to vote on the deal on Saturday.
Mr. Lowe said that Mr. Johnson faced a difficult, but not impossible, task in getting his plan through, and that he could even gain by losing. “I think he could lose, in which case this will all be about positioning himself for a general election,” Mr. Lowe said. of the prime minister.
Without the support of the Democratic Unionist Party, Mr. Johnson will struggle to secure Parliament’s approval. The last time Mrs. May put her proposal to lawmakers, she lost by 58 votes.
That was a different deal, and many of the hard-line Brexit supporters who rebelled prefer Mr. Johnson’s blueprint. They also trust Mr. Johnson more to steer the next phase of negotiations, focusing on a trade deal, and to secure much looser ties to the bloc.
Mr. Johnson will also try to persuade Labour lawmakers who represent areas that voted in 2016 to leave the European Union to defy their party and support his plan.
But he might still fall short without the D.U.P. Ominously for the prime minister, the leader of the hard-line European Research Group, Steve Baker, said on Thursday that he did not see how it could support the deal if Mr. Johnson failed to secure the backing of the Democratic Unionists.
Mr. Johnson’s situation would be strengthened if European Union leaders made it clear that they would not agree to a further delay if Parliament rejects this plan. That would effectively force lawmakers to choose among the new blueprint, a potentially disastrous rupture without a deal or a complete revocation of Brexit.
But that would be a big step for European leaders, who have so far been anxious to avoid giving any impression that they are pushing the British out of the bloc.
Matina Stevis-Gridneff contributed reporting from Brussels, and Anna Schaverien from London.
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