’Twas a long time ago, longer now than it seems in a place perhaps you’ve seen in your dreams. For the story you’re about to be told began with a referendum of old. Now you’ve probably wondered where Brexit comes from. If you haven’t, that’s fine, it’s still barely just begun.
This week in delays: March 29, April 12, and now Oct. 31: Today’s date has officially joined the list of Brexit deadlines that have come and gone. On Monday, EU leaders agreed to the U.K.’s request for a three-month extension, meaning the new Brexit date is Jan. 31. There was a little bit of drama about this because French President Emmanuel Macron wanted a shorter delay, but the general consensus in Brussels was that the deadlocked U.K. government should be given time to get its act together via a general election. Like the previous delay, this is a “flextension”: The U.K. could pull out earlier than Jan. 31 if Parliament approves a new withdrawal agreement. But that seems like wishful thinking.
Will Brexit definitely happen on Jan. 31, then? Prime Minister Boris Johnson wanted the EU to make clear that a “further extension after 31st January is not possible.” But all outgoing European Council President Donald Tusk would say is that this extension “may be the last one.”
This week in elections: Johnson has been trying to call for a new general election since early September, but he needed the support of two-thirds of Parliament. The opposition Labour Party refused to back a new election until the threat of a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31 was taken off the table. After the EU granted the extension this week, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn finally announced that his party (coalition? What is it called?) would back a general election. After a little bit of back-and-forth over the date and a failed attempt to allow 16-year-olds and EU citizens the right to vote in the election, Johnson won backing for a vote on Dec. 12, just in time for Christmas. (Yes, Americans, a country can hold a whole general election in less than two months. Just something to consider.)
Parliament will therefore be dissolved on Nov. 6, making this the shortest session since 1948. (House Speaker and cult favorite John “Orderrrrrrr” Bercow’s last day was Thursday.) Debate on the withdrawal agreement bill itself has been tabled until the election, which means the actual business of Brexit is on hold for a few weeks.
Brexit is not the only issue in the election—Corbyn opened his campaign on Thursday with a vow to take on “tax dodgers, dodgy landlords, bad bosses and big polluters”—but it’s the defining one. The Conservatives will run on the deal Johnson has negotiated and their vow to get Brexit done as soon as possible. Corbyn has promised a renegotiated “softer” Brexit deal including a customs union with the EU and a public referendum on that deal. There are also the hard-line Remain parties—the Scottish National Party, the Liberal Democrats, and the Greens—as well as Nigel Farage’s hard-line Brexit party. Right now the Tories have a strong lead in the polls, but that could change in a hurry.
A strong showing for Johnson’s Conservatives could finally bring the Brexit process to an end, as he would have the support needed to push his deal through Parliament. An upset win for Labour likely means another delay—Corbyn said this week it would take him six months to sort out Brexit, which seems optimistic—but there would be a new approach and a path forward. If the result is inconclusive, we’re going to be right back where we were. I have a sinking feeling I know which it will be.
Days until election: 43
Days until current Brexit deadline: 93