Another Brexit delay and no deal off the table – think again

05. September 2019, 14:50 Uhr

The Commons have spoken – and they have forced the government’s hand, rendering Boris Johnson a Prime Minister in office, but not in power.

So after the tumultuous past 48 hours in Westminster, whither are Brexit and the country heading? Here’re three answers to the three key questions as we identify them right now:

Surely, Brexit will now happen with a deal?

No to both aspects of the question. Neither is a no-deal Brexit off the table nor is Brexit itself guaranteed to happen. As a matter of fact, a soft Brexit within a framework agreed by both sides is now the least probable scenario for two reasons:

First, things have become so polarised as to pit in a general election a radicalised “Spartan” Conservative party intent on no deal and its potential allies, the Brexit Party against a Remain alliance equally intent on revocating Brexit altogether (cue the LibDems, the SNP, the Greens, and Plaid Cymru). In such a scenario (and with regard to its internal battles over the matter) Labour cannot re-run its latest equivocating platform of being pro-Brexit and somewhat against it at the same time. The decision, hence, will become a binary one between no deal and Remain, rather than different shades of Brexit. And if Labour is not able to join the Remain alliance for various reasons (which we anticipate), the advantage will lie with the Leave camp.

Second, the EU is completely unnerved by the UK’s wavering and adamant that the agreement reached with Theresa May will not be reopened, notwithstanding a general election. That agreement, however, is hugely unpopular not only among MPs but in the country, too. Its becoming an election platform is therefore out of the question, with no alternative deal discernible to campaign for in the general election.

But there is a critical snag here for all that to happen in the first place: the formation of a caretaker government after a motion of no confidence has succeeded. If by any turn or twist the opposition fails to build a government on their own, the table is turned again and the election date will be determined by the Prime Minister – who then will set it so as to facilitate a no-deal Brexit on 31 October (see chart).

Alright. But Brexit will happen no later than 31 October?

It’s very unlikely. Ever since suffering defeat in both crucial votes in the House of Commons in the past 48 hours, the government is at the mercy of the opposition in terms of triggering an election. An election will thus take place according to the conditions of the opposition (provided they succeed to form a caretaker government, as stated above) – and the LibDems have already made clear that they will not consent to an election date prior to an effective extension to the Brexit deadline (rather than merely the anti-no-deal-Bill given Royal Assent). In other words: Extension first, then an election, then Brexit. Though Labour and the SNP are yet to hammer out their position with regard to the election date over the weekend, it’s more likely than not that they, too, will come down in favour of an election after 31 October – if only to make sure a potentially ensuing Brexiter government does not rescind the anti-no-deal law of yesterday night, thus triggering a no-deal Brexit on 31 October by default. The only way to have an election in time to leave on 31 October is a vote of no confidence yielding no new government in the two weeks stipulated by the Fixed Term Parliaments Act (see above), thus triggering an election in mid-October automatically (see chart).

Anyway, will Brexit be resolved during yet another extension?

Most probably not, no. Due to the UK’s first-past-the-post system, a general election fought between a Leave alliance and a Remain one will almost certainly result in another hung Parliament where a factual minority government of either the Tories or Labour will have to rely on the votes of the Brexit Party and the LibDems/SNP/independents, respectively. If so, time will simply be lapsing again with no solution in sight; and barring a surprising majority in favour of revocating Brexit, the UK will then crash out of the EU when the clock has run down, because it’s extremely unlikely that the EU will consent to a further extension next year without any progress discernible. (Addendum as of November: Boris Johnson’s reaching a new Brexit deal in Brussels has re-stacked the odds in the coming general election in his favour – see related post – as much as it has dispelled the prospect of an outright no-deal platform of the Tories.)