Last week, I used the now-common comparison of the current state of Brexit negotiations to a game of chicken between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the EU. Admittedly, I did this in part because there was a funny picture of Johnson holding a chicken I could use, but it doesn’t quite capture the full situation. Johnson is hoping the EU will blink and reopen negotiations on Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement if he can show he’s serious about going through with a no-deal Brexit—something neither side wants—but a large portion of the British Parliament is also trying to stop him from going through with no-deal. It’s like a game of chicken where two cars are headed toward each other, but a third car is coming in from the side trying to sideswipe one of them to prevent the collision. So, it’s less Rebel Without a Cause than The Fast and the Furious. Hope that helps.
This week in Parliament: Johnson still won’t sit down for talks with EU leaders unless they agree to reopen negotiations on the withdrawal agreement, including the controversial “Irish backstop,” and so far they’ve shown no indication that they’re willing to do that. That means that, for now at least, the U.K. is scheduled to leave the EU without a trade deal on Oct. 31. In fact, it’s starting to look increasingly like Johnson doesn’t actually intend to renegotiate anything and that no-deal is the government’s plan.
This means the last hope for stopping no-deal may be Parliament, which returns from recess in early September. It won’t be easy.
The best hope for stopping no-deal may be for Johnson’s opponents to call a vote of no confidence in his government when they return from recess, and Labour leaders have suggested they may do that. There’s reason to believe Johnson could lose such a vote: After a by-election loss last week, the Conservative-led government holds the majority by just one vote—and at least a handful of Tories would likely vote against Johnson to prevent no-deal.
Then things would get messy. After Johnson lost a vote, there would be a 14-day window during which either he or another leader would have to gather enough support to form a new government. It seems unlikely that the current leader of the opposition, the controversial Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, would be able to win over enough support from other parties to do that.
So there’s increasing chatter that sects of Labour and the Conservatives may join with members of smaller parties to form a “government of national unity.” This government would exist only long enough to ask the EU for an extension and then dissolve itself to hold a new election. There are a number of big dilemmas facing this plan, not least who would lead it.
If a new government can’t be formed, Johnson will have to call a new election. But he gets to decide when it happens, and his aides have suggested he would schedule it for a few days after Oct. 31 in order to prevent an extension. Technically, he’s not supposed to push through any major policy changes in the period before an election, but Johnson could argue that it’s not a policy change since the Brexit deadline is already set.
Whatever happens, it’s going to be very complicated and involve a lot of lawyers, and there’s not much time to do it.
This week in no-deal: This week, the country’s main food-industry lobby warned that Britain could face shortages of some fresh foods for weeks or even months if a no-deal Brexit happens on Oct. 31. The timing is especially unfortunate given that the U.K. imports a much higher percentage of its food in winter months. “We’re not going to starve but there will be shortages of fresh food and some specialist ingredients. It’s going to be a little bit unpredictable,” Tim Rycroft of the Food and Drink Federation told Reuters. The unpredictability doesn’t help: Stores spent millions of pounds stockpiling food ahead of the original Brexit deadline on March 29, only to see it extended.
CNN reports that Domino’s has already spent about $8.5 million stockpiling pizza ingredients that might not be available after a no-deal Brexit. The British branch of the chain imports about a third of its raw supplies, including tomato sauce, frozen chicken, pineapple and tuna. (Brits have some odd ideas about pizza toppings.)
As if that weren’t worrying enough, Scotland Yard’s assistant commissioner warned this week that the U.K. could lose access to EU databases and other key crime-fighting and counterterrorism tools in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
On the other hand, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told new U.K. Foreign Affairs Secretary Dominic Raab this week that the U.S. would be “on the doorstep, pen in hand” with a new trade deal after Brexit. It’s not quite that simple: That trade deal may contain some demands on food safety and the National Health Service that won’t go over well in the U.K. It will also need to be approved by Congress, where it could face some resistance from Irish American lawmakers.
This week in Scotland: A poll taken just days after Johnson’s ill-received visit to Scotland found that 46 percent of Scots now support independence from the United Kingdom, vs. 43 percent against. The last Scottish independence referendum failed to pass in 2014, but Brexit and the arrival of the Johnson government—both of which are deeply unpopular in Scotland—have changed the picture, or at least so argue leaders of the pro-independence Scottish National Party who want to hold another referendum after Brexit.
Brexit has increased support for independence, but the original case for independence was premised on the fact that both Scotland and the remaining parts of the U.K. would still be in the EU, minimizing economic disruption. The Brexit experience, particularly around the Irish border, has made it clear just how messy a Scottish separation could be. For Scottish nationalists, it’s a Catch-22: Brexit made winning support for independence possible, but it made actually delivering independence much more difficult.
Days until next deadline: 85