London, United Kingdom | AFP | The ruling by Britain’s Supreme Court that Prime Minister Boris Johnson unlawfully suspended parliament is a huge blow to his authority and complicates the already tortuous Brexit process.
But it is not yet clear what impact it will have for Brexit. Here are some possible scenarios for the coming weeks:
– Johnson resigns –
The judges unanimously ruled that Johnson acted unlawfully in suspending parliament for five weeks in the run-up to Britain’s scheduled exit from the European Union on October 31.
In a damning verdict, they said the lengthy suspension “had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of parliament to carry out its constitutional functions”.
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called on Johnson to “consider his position”, remarks echoed by other political figures.
However, Johnson has only been in office since July and is likely to resist such calls.
Although his position in parliament is weak, opinion polls suggest his battles with MPs over Brexit are actually making him more popular with voters.
– Brexit delay –
Britain will leave the EU on October 31 unless it asks the bloc to delay, and the leaders of the other 27 member states agree.
Johnson wants to keep this date, but many MPs fear his threat to leave without agreeing divorce terms with Brussels would cause huge disruption.
Earlier this month, they passed a law that would force Johnson to request a three-month delay to Brexit to January 31, 2020, with the option of further delays.
This would take effect if the prime minister has failed to get a divorce deal or somehow persuaded MPs to back a “no deal” exit by October 19.
The law would apply whether or not Johnson remains.
– Brexit deal –
Johnson could still keep to the October 31 deadline if he manages to secure a deal with the EU that wins the approval of a majority of MPs — but it is a huge task.
His predecessor Theresa May struck exit terms with Brussels last year but MPs rejected them three times.
EU leaders have accused Johnson’s government of failing to come up with any concrete alternative plans.
Johnson had hoped his threat to walk away without a deal would persuade them to renegotiate.
However, he says he believes an agreement is still possible before a summit of EU leaders in Brussels on October 17-18, in time to leave on October 31.
– ‘No deal’ Brexit –
Johnson has said he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than delay Brexit, more than three years after Britons narrowly voted in a referendum to leave the EU.
Ministers have indicated they will look for loopholes in the MPs’ legislation in order to allow a “no deal” exit, while insisting they will uphold the law.
Johnson could resign rather than ask for a delay, but someone — perhaps a civil servant, or an opposition politician — would have to make the request.
There is a chance that EU leaders tire of Britain’s prevarication and refuse to delay Brexit, but they do not want to be blamed for a chaotic divorce.
– Early election –
Johnson inherited a wafer-thin majority in the House of Commons, but lost this when he expelled 21 of his Conservative MPs who rebelled over the “no deal” law.
He called for an election before October 31 to resolve the impasse, but opposition parties refused to support him and the motion failed.
Labour said it would only back an election once “no deal” was off the table, with commentators looking towards a poll in November or December.
Johnson cannot trigger an election simply by resigning — he needs the support of two-thirds of the Commons.
– No Brexit at all? –
If Johnson wins a subsequent election, or can forge a pact with the eurosceptic Brexit Party, he could still force through a “no deal” divorce in the months ahead.
If Labour wins, the party has promised to hold a new referendum, with an option to remain in the European Union — which could see Brexit cancelled.