After MPs rejected Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s second bid to call an early election to solve the Brexit impasse, he is left in limbo heading towards a crucial EU summit next month, just days before Britain’s scheduled exit.
Here are some possible scenarios for the coming weeks:
Britain will leave the European Union on 31 October unless it asks the bloc to delay, and the leaders of the other 27 member states agree. Johnson wants to keep this date, but many MPs fear his threat to leave without agreeing divorce terms with Brussels would cause huge disruption.
In the past week, they have passed a law that would force Johnson to request a three-month delay to Brexit to 31 January 2020, with the option of further delays. This would take effect if the prime minister has failed to get a divorce deal or somehow persuaded MPs to back a “no deal” exit by 19 October.
Johnson could still keep to the 31 October deadline if he manages to secure a deal with the EU that wins the approval of a majority of MPs – but it is a huge task. His predecessor, Theresa May, reached an agreement with Brussels last year but MPs rejected it three times.
EU leaders have so far refused to reopen the text, and accuse Johnson’s government of failing to come up with any concrete alternative plans. Johnson had hoped his threat to walk away without a deal would persuade them to renegotiate and says MPs’ actions have undermined his strategy.
However, he says he believes an agreement is still possible before a summit of EU leaders in Brussels on 17 to 18 October, in time to leave on 31 October.
“No deal” Brexit.
Johnson has said he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than delay Brexit, more than three years after Britons voted in a referendum to leave the EU. His government has indicated it will look for loopholes in the MPs’ legislation in order to allow a “no deal” exit, although it insists it always upholds the law.
There is speculation Johnson could resign rather than ask for a delay, but someone – perhaps a civil servant, or an opposition politician – would have to make the request. There is a chance EU leaders tire of Britain’s prevarication and refuse to delay Brexit, although the bloc is unwilling to take the blame for a disorderly divorce.
After expelling 21 of his Conservative MPs who rebelled over the Brexit law last week, Johnson no longer has a majority in the 650-seat House of Commons. This leaves him in an impossible situation, unable to govern, and an election is seen as almost inevitable. But the timing remains in question.
Johnson had wanted an election on 15 October, hoping he would win enough seats in the Commons to force through his Brexit plan. But the main opposition Labour party said it would only back an election once “no deal” was off the table.
Two-thirds of MPs must support an early election, but parliament is now suspended until 14 October. Talk is now turning to a November poll.
No Brexit at all?
If Johnson wins a subsequent election or can forge a pact with the eurosceptic Brexit Party, he could still force through a “no deal” divorce in the months ahead.
If Labour wins, the party has promised to hold a new referendum, with an option to remain in the European Union – which could see Brexit cancelled.