The Slatest

This Week in Brexit: What Now?

Boris Johnson overlaid with the EU flag, one star blinking.
Boris Johnson in London on June 17.
Animation by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photo by Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images.

This week, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson went nuclear with the great Brexit debate, announcing Wednesday he will suspend Parliament for more than a month from Sept. 10 until Oct. 14. The stated purpose of shutting down the legislature—a process formally known as proroguing—is to deliver a so-called Queen’s Speech, which is essentially the outlining of the government’s legislative agenda. The real purpose of the shutdown, of course, to anyone who’s being honest with themselves, is to disrupt parliamentary opposition to the country’s “no-deal” departure from the European Union that’s currently set to take place on Oct. 31.

Before the announcement, cross-party legislation had been bubbling that would have prohibited the Conservative-led government from willfully leaving the EU without any arrangement on how the two would coexist in the future. Now, instead of weeks to hammer out legislation in Westminster, parliamentarians have days to come to some sort of compromise agreement. Beyond a legislative speed round, there are a number of other possible responses to Johnson’s extraordinary move to effectively bypass Parliament.

This week in the legal option: There are currently three legal challenges to Johnson’s proroguing of Parliament. A Scottish court refused a motion Friday for an emergency injunction to put a halt to the suspension, but the court will hear the case on Tuesday and could hand down a ruling as quickly as the following day. “A second judicial review challenge has been filed by anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller who won a high profile Supreme Court victory over the government in 2017 forcing it to hold a parliamentary vote on triggering Article 50,” the Financial Times notes. “On Thursday a third legal challenge seeking an injunction to stop proroguing was filed at the High Court in Belfast by victims rights campaigner Raymond McCord, who has argued that a no-deal Brexit is a breach of the Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland.”

Johnson’s parliamentary shutdown has drawn a fierce rebuke on all sides, from all angles. “Boris Johnson has detonated a bomb under the constitutional apparatus of the United Kingdom,” a Financial Times editorial declared this week. “There is no legal or administrative justification for a complete five-week cessation of parliament’s activities ahead of a Queen’s Speech. Mr Johnson is using constitutional chicanery to thwart a parliament that he knows has a majority against his chosen policy.” Even still, despite the challenges, there remains significant doubt over whether the courts are in a position to provide any resolution to the stoppage.

This week in no confidence: Another option is for the opposition in Parliament, when it reconvenes next week, to call for a vote of no confidence. The Conservatives’ governing coalition has just a one-seat majority in Parliament. The party, despite being home to Johnson and his fellow Brexiteers, let’s not forget, was officially in favor of remaining in the EU ahead of the 2016 referendum. The party is still home to reluctant supporters of carrying out the referendum result, as well as those who are adamantly against leaving without a deal to soften the looming economic blow of withdrawal. If the Labour-led opposition is able to pry enough Tories away to support a no-confidence vote, the party would then have the opportunity to try to form a government of its own.

Leftist Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is a divisive figure even in his own party, and significant concessions would likely need to be made to secure the votes to dissolve the government from beneath Boris Johnson’s feet. The two most apparent compromises would be either a short-term Corbyn government that would likely be committed to negotiating a deadline extension with Brussels and then sending the country back to the polls to pick a new government, and ostensibly a path forward on Brexit. If even a temporary Corbyn-led government proves intolerable to enough swing MPs, there is also the possibility of the reins being handed over to a caretaker prime minister to handle the task of postponing the deadline and calling an election.

This week in Parliament fights back: The easiest and most effective route to preventing a no-deal Brexit—without the benefit of pummeling Johnson for his executive overreach—might just be to quickly cobble together legislation in the few days parliamentarians have left before the Sept. 10 deadline. Labour’s Shami Chakrabarti, the shadow attorney general, told the BBC that she thought her party had the votes to do just that. “The outrage of this abusive early shutdown of parliament has strengthened those potential numbers,” she said Friday. What would the legislation look like? The BBC notes “one possibility was a one-line amendment to the Withdrawal Act, saying the UK can only leave the EU with a deal in place.” There are potential legislative hurdles, however, that could see Brexiteers, ironically, use parliamentary procedure to slow down any legislation’s passage until time runs out.

This week in who knows what’s next: Are there other options? We’ll find out! Well, there is the chance that all of these opposition measures run out of steam and Boris Johnson leads the country out of the EU on Oct. 31 without a deal. Johnson has said he’s trying to get a better deal out of Brussels, but it’s not totally clear what he wants—other than everything. Is there a palatable middle ground? Perhaps, but other than a few European concessions here or there, it’s unclear there’s anything short of no-deal—or utter EU capitulation—that Johnson is simultaneously going to be able to claim as a “departure” from the EU as well as a thumping victory.

Meanwhile, next week the Conservative government is launching its 100-million-pound no-deal public information campaign built around the slogan “Get ready.” “Billboards and a revamped government website will kick off the campaign, hailed as the biggest advertising drive since the Second World War,” according to the Times. “It is meant to ensure that businesses and the public are prepared in case Britain departs the EU without an agreement on October 31.” Better late than never, I guess.

Days until next deadline: 63