It was in June 2016 when 52 per cent of British voters chose to leave the European Union. More than three years later, they remain, with a divorce deal yet to be agreed on, while the issue has become a political morass.
So far, Brexit has led to the resignation of Theresa May as prime minister, the installation of Boris Johnson as party leader to take her place, and warnings that the U.K. may be facing a constitutional crisis.
In a highly controversial move that sparked widespread condemnation, Johnson asked the Queen to suspend the British Parliament next month. (The Queen approved the request.) Johnson has vowed to complete the divorce from the EU by Oct. 31. with or without a deal.
This action has angered opposition MPs, along with some members of Johnson’s own Conservative Party. Johnson has been accused of stifling democracy by critics who say the prorogation of Parliament will thwart MPs who want to block, or even debate, a no-deal Brexit.
So what does all this mean for Brexit? Will Britain actually leave the EU on Oct. 31? What does “no-deal” mean? And what happens next? Here are the answers to some of the big questions.
Wasn’t Brexit supposed to have happened already?
Yes. Brexit had been scheduled to happen on March 29, two years after then-prime minister Theresa May triggered the Lisbon Treaty’s Article 50, the mechanism by which a member state leaves the bloc. But the deadline was delayed, in part because the British Parliament three times rejected a withdrawal deal agreed between the May government and the EU.
In April, the EU and May agreed to delay Brexit until Oct. 31.
What’s a no-deal Brexit?
A no-deal Brexit simply means that the U.K. would leave the EU on Oct. 31 without having agreed on the terms of its divorce, which includes issues like how much money the U.K. would pay the EU, and what rights EU citizens would have in the U.K. (and vice-versa). Johnson has threatened to leave without a deal, but a spokesperson for the PM earlier this week said they “absolutely want to do so with a deal.”
But opposition parties including the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish Nationalist Party and even some so-called rebel Conservatives all oppose Britain leaving the EU without hammering out a deal with the bloc beforehand.
Can the British Parliament stop a no-deal Brexit?
With Johnson holding a majority by just one seat, the opposition, along with some Conservatives, could try and pass legislation to extend EU membership beyond the Oct. 31 deadline.
There is, however, a major stumbling block. With Johnson’s move to suspend Parliament, set for sometime next month, and the government set to deliver the Queen’s speech in mid-October, MPs may not have enough time to pass any laws blocking the U.K.’s exit from the EU on Oct. 31 without a deal.
What about a no-confidence motion?
It’s an option. Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn had called on other opposition party leaders and MPs to support him if he were to table a vote of no confidence in Johnson’s government. If the Johnson government did topple, Corbyn would make a play for prime minister, as the leader of the second biggest party. If successful, he could prevent a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31, and then call a snap election.
However, the Liberal Democrats and some Tory MPs said they would not support any plan that saw Corbyn become prime minister — even on a temporary basis, the BBC reported.
What is the main sticking point to a deal with the EU?
The outstanding issue that has been the most difficult to resolve is the so-called Irish border backstop. It’s considered the main reason the British Parliament repeatedly rejected the deal May negotiated with the EU. Johnson opposes the backstop provisions in his predecessor’s deal. He told European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker this week that there was no prospect of a Brexit deal unless the Irish border backstop was abolished.
The backstop provision in the proposed withdrawal agreement by May, and approved of by the EU, is aimed at keeping an open border between EU member Ireland and British-ruled Northern Ireland. It would prevent the return of a physical border and border controls between the two.
Right now, people and goods flow freely between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, with no need for customs checks. Brexit could change all that.
But critics of the backstop argue that it would keep the U.K. bound to EU customs regulations, which would derail Britain’s efforts to strike other international trade deals.