The Slatest

This Week in Brexit: Did Boris Johnson Lie to the Queen?

Boris Johnson, Queen Elizabeth II.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Queen Elizabeth II.
Animation by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photo by Jon Super/AFP/Getty Images, Chris Jackson/Getty Images.

After last week’s insanity, Parliament was suspended on Monday thanks to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s strategically dubious “prorogation” maneuver. But the Brexit news can’t stop, won’t stop.

This week in court: A Scottish court ruled on Tuesday that Johnson’s five-week suspension of Parliament was unlawful, reversing an earlier decision and setting up an appeal at the high court in London next week. While there’s precedent for the prime minister to suspend Parliament before giving a “Queen’s Speech” to set out the government’s legislative agenda, the judges, ruling on a challenge brought by a group of 70 opposition lawmakers, found that Johnson had acted for the “improper purpose of stymieing Parliament” and that he had effectively misled the queen about his motives. Johnson denied lying to the queen. For now, Parliament remains suspended.

This week in worst-case scenarios: Before leaving, MPs forced the government to release documents featuring “reasonable worst case assumptions” about the impact of a no-deal Brexit on the British economy. Some of the projections, prepared as part of a contingency operation called Operation Yellowhammer, had already been reported. The full vision is as ugly as feared. Potential impacts include shortages of some foods and rises in the price of food and fuel, massive delays for truck traffic crossing the English Channel, shortages of some medicines, and the possibility of mass protests or riots. The documents make clear that despite Johnson’s upbeat pronouncements, his government is preparing for a scenario every bit as damaging as those predicted by Brexit’s staunchest critics.

This week in Northern Ireland: Johnson this week dismissed reports that he is considering a Northern Ireland–only backstop that would leave the territory under EU rules. For months now, Brexit talks have been frustrated by the Irish border problem: There’s no clear way for Northern Ireland to leave the EU customs union without setting up checkpoints on the border with the Republic of Ireland, something that pretty much everyone considers unacceptable. But leaving Northern Ireland in a so-called all-Ireland zone would mean there would be a de facto economic border between it and the rest of the U.K. That would be unacceptable to Johnson’s coalition partners, the Democratic Unionist Party—a largely Protestant Northern Irish parties that favors closer ties with London.

The Conservatives had been counting on the DUP to maintain their narrow majority in Parliament, which is one reason why Theresa May rejected a Northern Ireland–only backstop last year. Now, after last week, Johnson doesn’t have a majority anyway, so they may not have as much sway as they did before.

This week in keep calm and carry on: Johnson continues to maintain that he can negotiate a new withdrawal agreement with the EU next month and that the “rough shape” of a deal exists. He’s traveling to Luxembourg next week for talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. But EU leaders have repeatedly said that they haven’t seen any specific proposals on Johnson’s alternative Brexit plan.

Under the law passed by Parliament last week, Johnson has until Oct. 19—the day after a crucial EU summit—to negotiate a new withdrawal agreement. If he can’t, he’ll be legally required to ask for an extension. He says there are no circumstances under which he’d do that, and the opposition, which now controls Parliament, won’t let him call a new election until he does.

So, it’s not really clear what’s going to happen, then.

This week in or-duhhhhhhhr: John Bercow, the sharp-tongued, loud, tie-wearing speaker of the House of Commons who has delighted viewers and aggravated Brexiteers over the past few months, announced this week that he will step down by the end of October. He also vowed not to allow Johnson to ignore Parliament by taking the U.K. out of the EU without a deal next month, which could lead to one final showdown. Though originally elected to Parliament as a Conservative—as is customary, he resigned from the party when he became speaker—he has aggravated many of his former colleagues, who see him as biased against Brexit, though he maintains he has only been standing up for the rights of Parliament.

Farewell, John. Be a good boy.

Days until next deadline: 49