Brexit - where are we now?
With the UK still due to leave the EU on 31 October at 23.00 GMT, developments continue to happen around how, if and when this will occur. With the clock still counting down until Britain leaves the EU, what this means for the future of the UK is anyone’s guess at the moment. Here we run through the different possibilities that could happen in the next few weeks.
Request for an extension
With the passage of the bill to prevent a no-deal Brexit on 31 October, Parliament has ensured that they can prevent a no-deal Brexit occurring on 31 October. The law requires that, if a deal is not agreed between the UK and the EU by 19 October, MPs must either vote in favour of leaving with no deal, or the Prime Minister will be legally obliged to ask the EU for another delay to the Brexit deadline.
Get a new deal
Boris Johnson has said that he is currently trying to negotiate a new deal with the EU and his lead Brexit negotiator, David Frost, and Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, have been meeting with EU officials. If a new deal were agreed to, and MPs vote for it before 31 October, there wouldn’t be any need for an extension.
However, one of the sticking points that prevented MPs from agreeing to Theresa May’s initial deal is still causing problems for negotiators – the Irish backstop. A measure aimed at preventing a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the UK Government wants a deal with the backstop removed, while the EU says that this is untenable. There has been some discussion of a possible third option: a Northern Ireland-only backstop, which would leave it more closely tied to the EU than the rest of the UK. However, this would effectively create a border in the Irish Sea, which Theresa May has said no British prime minister could accept.
Try and get around the law preventing a no-deal Brexit
Given his dedication to ensuring the UK leaves the EU on 31 October – “no ifs or buts” – Boris Johnson has said that he might refuse to obey the no-deal Brexit law and not ask for an extension. There has been some speculation around potentially finding a loophole in the law, or using some other device so that Mr Johnson can avoid having to ask for the extension himself. It’s been suggested, for example, that the Prime Minister could request an extension whilst simultaneously asking the EU to ignore his request.
The idea of a loophole being used has, however, been played down by former Supreme Court Justice Lord Sumption.
No-deal Brexit on 31 October
The default position is still that the UK will leave the EU on 31 October – whether a deal has been agreed or not. Even if Boris Johnson requests an extension from the EU, the other member states may not agree to it – and every member state must agree to it for an extension to occur.
Leaving without a deal means the UK would immediately exit the customs union and single market, which many businesses and politicians argue would be disastrous for the economy – both the UK’s and globally.
However, others say the risks are exaggerated.
A general election is still expected to be called, but almost certainly after Brexit’s current deadline, 31 October.
If the Prime Minister wanted to ensure a general election happens before then, he can request that the Commons vote for one. While normally a two thirds Commons’ majority is required for an election to be called, it’s unlikely that Johnson could achieve this. Instead, he could introduce a short new law specifying the date of an early general election, which would only require 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. There’s also been a suggestion that Johnson could call a vote of no confidence in his own government to try and get a general election.
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, potentially after 31 October, when Brexit would have already happened, and the UK would have fallen out of the EU without a deal.
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.