A law designed to stop a no-deal Brexit on 31 October has been passed. Parliament is currently suspended until 14 October – although that is being challenged in the courts – so what will happen with Brexit in the coming weeks?
If a deal is not agreed between the UK and EU by 19 October, and MPs don’t vote in favour of leaving with no deal, then the prime minister – currently Boris Johnson – will be legally obliged to ask the EU for a Brexit delay.
There are a number of scenarios that could now happen.
Get a new deal
Boris Johnson says he is trying to negotiate a new deal with the EU. If that happened and MPs backed it before 31 October there would be no need for an extension.
David Frost, the prime minister’s lead Brexit negotiator, is planning to be in Brussels for talks at least twice a week while Parliament is suspended (prorogued).
The existing deal negotiated by former Prime Minister Theresa May and her government has been defeated in the House of Commons several times – and Mr Johnson has said it is dead.
The government wants a deal with the backstop removed. That’s the measure aimed at preventing any possibility of border posts and checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
There has been some discussion that a possible option could be to go for a Northern Ireland-only backstop. In other words, Northern Ireland would remain more closely tied to the EU than the rest of the UK.
Critics say that would effectively mean a border in the Irish Sea. When she was in office, Theresa May said that was something no British prime minister could accept.
- The Irish border Brexit backstop
Try to get round the law designed to block no-deal Brexit
If there is no new deal, and the prime minister refuses to seek an extension there is likely to be a legal battle.
Cabinet ministers have said the government will obey the law, but the prime minister has said he will not ask for an extension. There has been some speculation about finding a loophole in the law or using some other device to avoid Mr Johnson himself having to ask for the extension.
For example, it’s been suggested that he could request an extension but at the same time tell the EU to ignore his request.
The idea of a loophole has been played down by former Supreme Court Justice Lord Sumption.
- Could a no-deal Brexit still happen on 31 October?
No-deal Brexit on 31 October
The default position is still that the UK will leave the EU on 31 October at 23:00 GMT.
Even if the prime minister requests an extension there is no guarantee that the other EU countries would agree.
Leaving without a deal (or withdrawal agreement) means the UK would immediately exit the customs union and single market – arrangements designed to make trade easier.
Many politicians and businesses say this would damage the economy. Others say the risks are exaggerated.
- What is ‘no-deal Brexit’?
Prime Minister Boris Johnson still wants to have an election soon. But any election will definitely happen after 31 October, when the UK is due to leave the EU.
That’s because Parliament is suspended – or prorogued – until 14 October and from that point there must be at least 25 working days until a general election happens. That takes us right into the middle of November at least.
There are different ways it could be triggered.
The government has twice failed to get two-thirds of MPs to support an early election under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. But the opposition could support an election in a third vote.
The alternative is a short new law specifying the date of an early general election – this would require only a simple majority and not need two-thirds of MPs.
There is another much more dramatic way – the prime minister could call a vote of no confidence in his own government.
- What are the PM’s election options?
Vote of no confidence
At any point the opposition could call a vote of no confidence in the government.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has previously said he would table such a motion. There’s also been a suggestion that Boris Johnson could call a no confidence vote in his own government.
If more MPs vote for the no-confidence motion than against it, there would then be a 14-day window to see if the current government – or an alternative one with a new prime minister – could win a vote of confidence.
If no-one does then a general election would follow.
- What is a vote of no confidence?
There is also the legal option of cancelling Brexit altogether by revoking Article 50.
But clearly, this is not something the current government is contemplating – so it’s only really possible to imagine this outcome after a change of government.
- Can the UK revoke Article 50?