Four ways to resolve the Brexit crisis but none of them are easy

Leaving the EU has broken British politics and there are now just four ways out

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he meets Ireland's Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Leo Varadkar in Dublin, Ireland, September 9, 2019. Reuters
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he meets Ireland's Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Leo Varadkar in Dublin, Ireland, September 9, 2019. Reuters

Boris Johnson suspended parliament for five weeks as his party fights to resolve the Brexit dilemma. Britain must leave the European Union by October 31 but parliament won't assemble again until October 14.

After a new law came into force on Monday, Mr Johnson is now obliged to ask the EU for a second extension to the leaving date (the first extension was granted at a summit in Brussels in March) if he cannot reach a new withdrawal agreement. The decisive summit is due to be held in Brussels on October 17.

What can now happen to resolve the Brexit impasse? Here are four options facing the country.

Britain could still crash out of the EU on October 31 without a deal

Mr Johnson has repeatedly said he will not ask the EU for an extension to the current Brexit deadline. He said as much to the House of Commons before the shutdown on Monday night. “I will not ask for another delay,” he said.

Plan A for the government is a new agreement but refusing to ask for a delay would see Downing Street run down the clock until the deadline expires. Attorney general Geoffrey Cox is believed to have said that would be an criminal act that would see the prime minister face charges.

Attorney general Geoffrey Cox arrives at 10 Downing Street for a cabinet meeting on September 10, 2019 in London, England. Parliament has now been suspended for five weeks. Boris Johnson's vote to call an early election in October was defeated in the Commons for a second time. Getty Images
Attorney general Geoffrey Cox arrives at 10 Downing Street for a cabinet meeting on September 10, 2019 in London, England. Getty Images

It is also possible that a request for a delay would be refused by the other EU countries. The 27 European nations are exasperated by the twists and turns of British politics. With a new EU leadership coming into office later this year, there is a feeling that the Brexit wrangling cannot go on. France in particular has said that there won't be an extension under the current circumstances.

Some in Mr Johnson's team have even floated the idea of encouraging a sympathetic government to veto the extension and thus assist Brexit by a backdoor route.

Losing Britain from the EU remains a strategic blow for the bloc. It would be a very big strategic decision to force the world's sixth-largest economic power out of its membership.

The EU and UK could agree on a last-minute withdrawal agreement

While Mr Johnson also told parliament that it had tied his hands going into the October 17th summit, the prime minister has vowed to get a new agreement. To the outside world any new deal would look like the old deal negotiated by Theresa May in all but a few key areas. One big decision that London could take is to pare back the so-called backstop that keeps alignment with the EU's single market and customs union to just Northern Ireland.

The decision would mean that Great Britain would sever most of its economic ties with the EU but an all-Ireland economy would be preserved. This has great implications for the internal union of the UK. It would also fuel nationalist sentiment in the pro-Remain Scottish nation.

However, it would provide for a more orderly exit on October 31 with a transition period that stretches until the end of 2020, in which all of the UK would be able to trade on current terms with the rest of Europe.

A new leader could be installed to stop no-deal and find a new Brexit path

In the short interval after reconvening, Parliament could face the dilemma of how to stop a government that is deliberately ignoring its demands to avoid a no-deal exit. It has already refused to grant a two-thirds endorsement of an early general election.

Another option is a no-confidence vote in Mr Johnson. This would give his rivals 14 days to back an alternative prime minister. Given that no party has a majority in the House of Commons this would mean a coalition of MPs coming together for a caretaker government that would have a limited lifespan and a single purpose to find a new solution to the challenge of leaving the EU instructed by the 2016 referendum.

The first hurdle is that Mr Johnson would have to recommend his replacement. He has vowed to do this. Queen Elizabeth could be put in constitutional crisis of having to chose between her prime minister and a majority of parliamentarians.

Brexit could be halted as a general election is triggered

The fracturing of the two main political parties since the 2017 general election has made Britain impossible to govern through the parliamentary system. A general election is certain. What is impossible to guess is the timing of the decision to call a vote. If a general election is triggered by October 31, either by Mr Johnson or by his rivals in parliament, there will be immense pressure for a delay in the UK's withdrawal while the campaign is ongoing. Again Mr Johnson has vowed to press ahead. Normal rules of elections mean that the government goes into "purdah", meaning that the no major spending decisions can be take by ministers or civil servants. A crisis over Brexit would be compounded by these rules. Yet another dilemma thrown up by the Brexit meltdown.

Updated: September 12, 2019 04:59 AM


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