Britain faces no deal on Brexit as Boris Johnson handles this crisis

Britain faces no deal on Brexit as Boris Johnson handles this crisis
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The honeymoon period is officially over for newly installed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He has asked Queen Elizabeth to suspend or prorogue Parliament two days after it returns from its annual summer recess for a period of five weeks. His request was approved because to not do so might well have created a very real constitutional crisis. When Parliament returns in October, there will be less than two weeks before Britain leaves the European Union with or without a negotiated deal.

The optics of the proroguing of Parliament could hardly have been worse. This is an unelected prime minister, who has yet to face the public in a general election, meeting with an unelected aging monarch, jointly deciding to shut down an elected Parliament for five weeks, in order to force a course of action that no member of Parliament was asked to vote on. The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, argued that the prorogation was a “smash and grab raid against our democracy.”

While the prorogation of Parliament occurs every autumn, ending one session before another session begins with the speech given by Queen Elizabeth that sets out her government policies for the year ahead, Johnson has gone a step further by extending the prorogation by five weeks. Since 1980, for example, prorogation has only lasted one week with an additional three weeks to cater for the annual political party conferences. The longer period will certainly affect the ability of rebel members of Parliament to prevent a no deal exit through legislation.


Within hours of the move, which many who oppose Brexit declared a constitutional coup, more than one million people had signed a petition against the suspension while legal action was launched in courts across the United Kingdom seeking to reverse the prorogation. A day later, the popular leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, Ruth Davidson, who transformed the political fortunes of her party over the last eight years, resigned citing the approach by Johnson as one of the reasons. Her departure, along with a hard Brexit with no deal, might well embolden Scottish nationalists to push for a second independence referendum within the next year and hasten the end of the union with Britain.

Since becoming prime minister last month, Johnson has made it clear Britain will leave the European Union by the end of October with or without a deal. He packed his cabinet with staunch Brexiters and has prioritized plans to exit the largest trade bloc in the world without a deal. His rhetoric has served to unite those who not only oppose leaving the Euopean Union but also those who would prefer to leave with a deal.

At fruitless meetings with the German and French leaders ahead of the Group of Seven meeting in Biarritz, Johnson reiterated his demand that the European Union reopen withdrawal talks to seek a new deal. But the European Union has remained steadfast in its view that the Brexit deal negotiated by his predecessor, Theresa MayTheresa Mary MayThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' Money talks: Why China is beating America in Asia China is winning the war for global tech dominance MORE, is the only one on offer. Brussels will now wait as the latest political crisis unfolds in London.

When Parliament briefly returns next week, much can still happen despite the small window available. It is next to impossible to pass legislation to reverse the prorogation as there is simply not enough time available. The options to introduce legislation that makes it effectively illegal to leave the European Union without a deal are greatly reduced. Indeed, the “nuclear option” will be for Corbyn to call a vote of no confidence in the minority government of Johnson. Assuming the Labour Party leader can secure the backing of some Conservative Party members of Parliament, who would have to vote against their own government, and he wins the motion, then Corbyn will have only two weeks to try and form his own government.

Such an administration would likely be a caretaker government that steers Brexit with a deal or seeking to extend the deadline to next year. It could also pass legislation making it impossible to leave the European Union without a deal. Should Corbyn fail to win a no confidence motion, the timetable of Johnson would remain with Britain guaranteed to leave the European Union, deal or no deal, with the latter looking increasingly likely. Yet despite the intrigue, worthy of a “House of Cards” episode, one thing is certain. The most dramatic chapter in the most unhappiest of political marriages is about to unfold before our eyes in the next eight weeks.

Michael J. Geary is a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. He is also an associate professor of European history at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.