Will Brexit Still Happen On October 31?

Boris Johnson has been forced to ask for an extension to Article 50. Here’s how the ifs and buts could play out ahead of the deadline.

Boris Johnson has repeatedly promised to take the UK out of the EU by October 31 “no ifs, no buts”. This is still possible. But there are a lot of ifs and quite a few buts.

Johnson will firstly attempt to hold a “straight up-and-down” meaningful vote on Monday on his Brexit deal. But John Bercow is expected to block it being held on the basis MPs have already been asked to vote on it once.

The prime minister was forced by parliament on Saturday to ask the EU for an extension to Article 50 in order to avoid a no-deal exit at the end of this month. The EU27 have yet to announce their decision.

One way to ensure the UK drops out of the EU on October 31 would be if one EU member state vetoed any extension. French President Emmanuel Macron has been lukewarm on the idea of dragging the process out even longer. And it was reported the British government event sent out feelers to see if Hungary could be persuaded to block an extension should Johnson be forced to ask for one.

But in reality it is seen as highly unlikely the EU, which is not at all keen on a no-deal, will reject the request.

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Assuming an extension is granted, Johnson needs to pass the legislation required to write his exit agreement into British law - the Withdrawal Act Bill (WAB) - to meet the October 31 deadline. But time is tight.

Rishi Sunak, the chief secretary to the Treasury, confirmed on Monday morning that parliament could be asked to sit over the coming weekend. “If that’s what is required, then of course we should. We need to get this thing done now,” he told LBC. “If we need to put in an extra shift, the country would expect nothing less so we stand ready to leave at the end of October.”

The Commons also have to agree on Tuesday to the programme motion, setting out the timetable for the WAB to be debated and voted on. If MPs reject the government’s timetable, Johnson’s chances of getting it through by Halloween will be slim.

Justine Greening, the former Tory cabinet minister who was kicked out of the party for voting to block a no-deal exit, told the BBC this morning the “huge” piece of legislation needed to be properly examined. “We all know that rushed law is bad law, this is the political rewiring of our country and it has to be done properly,” she said.

Another headache for the prime minister will be attempts by opposition MPs to amend his deal as the legislation makes its way through parliament. Labour has said it plans to try and attach changes to keep the UK tied to a customs union with the EU. It will also support a move to put Johnson’s deal to a second referendum. If MPs substantially change the deal in the Commons then the PM would have to go back to the EU to ask it to agree – which would take up precious time.


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