Brexit - where are we now?
If you’ve lost track of where things currently stand with Brexit, why there have been so many votes, what they mean and where it leaves us, why not let us catch you up with this quick rundown of everything important that’s happened over the last few days.
Bill to prevent a no-deal Brexit
While the government usually sets the agenda for Parliament, MPs opposing a no-deal Brexit voted to both take control of the itinerary and then subsequently pass a cross-party bill. This legislation is designed to force the Prime Minister to ask for an extension to the UK’s EU membership to avoid a no-deal Brexit if there’s no progress by 19 October.
The bill, having passed the House of Lords in the early hours of 5 September, will now be returned to the House of Commons to be debated again and presented for royal assent – then becoming law. However, it looks like it still won’t entirely block a no-deal Brexit, as it can only ever obstruct it as an option, not entirely remove it – nothing except an outright cancellation of Brexit would prevent no-deal from occurring.
A general election will happen – we’re just not sure when…
Following the government’s legislative defeat, the Prime Minister insisted that there was only one option left and that was to call a general election. He believes that the no-deal bill “scupper[s]” his negotiation position with the EU and the only way forward now is to hold an election. However, opposing MPs see the call for a public vote as part of a “disingenuous game” to force a no-deal Brexit.
To call an election, the Prime Minister needed the backing of two-thirds of MPs, which he wasn’t able to achieve. Whilst most opposition parties actually appear to be quite keen for an election to happen, they want to ensure no-deal is categorically ruled out before they commit to one – looking to prevent, for example, Johnson from winning an election on 15 October, his suggested polling date, and then forcing the country out of the EU, come what may, on 31 October.
So, while an election is yet to be called, it does still appear all but inevitable at this point. The government is now more than 20 MPs short of a majority, and opposed by so many, that it’s become a question of when, not if.
Where we may be heading…
Things are moving very fast but currently the default position continues to be that the UK is set to leave the EU without a deal on 31 October at 23.00. While Johnson claims to be negotiating a new deal with the EU, talks do not seem to be progressing in Brussels, as the two sides clash over the issue of the Northern Irish backstop again.
And while this new bill to prevent a no-deal Brexit has now passed and looks set to become law, it remains to be seen whether Johnson would abide by it when the time came to ask the EU for an extension. The leaders of the opposing parties, most notably Jeremy Corbyn as the head of Labour, don’t currently trust that he will, hence why they have yet to agree to a general election.
So, what else could happen in the remaining weeks before the Brexit deadline? There are a number of different options facing the UK at the moment.
PM could call a snap election
The Prime Minister does have another option when it comes to calling a general election. Rather than rely on a two thirds majority of the Commons voting for one, he could instead introduce a short new law specifying the date of an early general election, which would require only a simple majority. If polling day was set before 31 October, what would happen next would then depend on the election’s outcome.
A vote of no confidence
Another possibility would be to table a vote of no confidence in the government, which Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has previously said he would do.
And if more MPs vote for the no-confidence motion than against it, there would then be a 14-day window to see if the current government - or an alternative one with a new prime minister - could win a vote of confidence. A new government appointed in this way would probably then seek a Brexit delay - perhaps to hold a general election or another referendum.
But if no-one wins a confidence vote, this would trigger a general election. If Boris Johnson was still prime minister, he could choose the date when to hold it, presumably after 31 October, when Brexit would have already happened, and the UK would have fallen out of the EU without a deal.
Get a deal passed by 31 October
This is the government’s preferred option, with Johnson hoping he can secure a new deal, or an amended version of the existing deal without the Irish backstop, before the end of October.
However, the backstop remains a sticking point in negotiations. A measure aimed at preventing a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the EU considers this a critical part of the deal, but the government is opposed to it. And while the EU has said it would consider any new UK proposals, it refuses to concede on the issue of the backstop.
Postpone Brexit again
While the UK can't unilaterally decide to delay Brexit, as other EU member states must agree unanimously to it, previous extensions have been agreed to. It’s likely it would be agreed to again if the other states thought the alternative was a no-deal Brexit.
And finally - and probably most controversially - there is also the legal option of cancelling Brexit altogether, by revoking Article 50.
However, this is clearly something the current government under Boris Johnson is not considering, so this outcome is only likely if a change of government were to occur.