This morning the European Commission reiterated that the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated between the EU27 and the UK cannot be reopened although it was willing to hold talks in the coming weeks by phone or in person “should the UK wish to clarify its position in more detail“.
With the EU refusing to reopen negotiations on the previous agreement, the likelihood of a deal being reached between the EU27 and the UK before 31 October 2019 appears to be slim. While we have been advising from some time that the risk of an unmanaged, no-deal exit remains high, procedurally it now seems all but inevitable.
There are plenty of voices calling for no-deal to be blocked or for Brexit to be abandoned or for a second referendum. However, the UK Government under Boris Johnson shows no signs of supporting any of those options. And this is the key point: The Parliamentary agenda is controlled by the Government and without an Act of Parliament or some other motion being put before Parliament, there is nothing that the opposition can seek to amend or block.
There were suggestions made that Parliament could be prorogued to avoid blocking no-deal, meaning that Parliament would be discontinued for a period, but it is short of dissolving it. In that scenario several people have suggested that this action could be subject to a judicial review on the basis that it is outside of the power of the Government. Whether that is the case, we may never know as Mr Johnson should be able to manage the Parliamentary agenda without needing to resort to proroguing Parliament.
Prime Minister Johnson is under no obligation to bring further legislation or motions to facilitate a no-deal Brexit. He would only do that in the event of a new deal being reached. Given that, it is now virtually impossible to block a no deal exit.
Some argue that a vote of no confidence can still stop Brexit. Parliament is currently in recess and the earliest date that a motion of no confidence could be submitted is 3 September. Even if such a vote went against Boris Johnson (which it conceivable could), he would simply set a date for a General Election – a date that almost certainly would be after 31 October thereby ensuring that the UK exits without further delay.
As a further observation, the main opposition party, Labour, may realise that an unmanaged, no-deal exit is about to occur and they may decide to hold off on a motion of no confidence, preferring to let Boris Johnson and the Conservatives take full ownership of the consequences of an unmanaged, no-deal exit and hoping that it will have a significant negative impact on the Conservatives whenever the next General Election is called (and possibly without the complications of having to deal with the Brexit Party in key seats if Brexit has already occurred).
Of all the scenarios we are monitoring, an unmanaged no-deal exit is now the most probable and we all need to start thinking about how we deal with the challenges ahead.