Boris Johnson's Brexit: the five key questions
FT Whitehall correspondent Sebastian Payne explains what he expects the UK prime minister is up against with his Brexit plan
Filmed by Rod Fitzgerald and Petros Gioupasis; edited by Richard Topping
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Boris Johnson's new government is going hell for leather for a no-deal Brexit. The new British prime minister has entered office saying he will only talk about a new Brexit deal with the EU if it doesn't include that troublesome Irish border backstop. The EU says they're not interested. So Mr Johnson, instead, is ramping up preparations to leave on October the 31 without a deal.
But many MPs in parliament aren't happy with this and are trying to challenge Mr Johnson's new policy. But there are so many questions about whether they have to bring down his government, whether they can force his hand and, most importantly, whether they have the power to stop a no-deal Brexit.
The main supporting MPs in parliament are becoming increasingly convinced the only way to stop a no-deal Brexit is to bring down Mr Johnson's government. Mr Johnson only has a working majority in parliament of one. And the numbers for winning a confidence vote when parliament returns in September are very tight indeed. So whether he can win that vote or not is going to be very uncertain. And if he loses that vote, then there's not much time left before Britain will head to a general election.
Britain has an unwritten constitution. And there's lots of conventions that say what the prime minister should do, not what he must do. Normally, if Mr Johnson lost a confidence vote then he would quit and make way for someone else. But people close to the prime minister say he won't do that at all. He's not interested in what parliament or MPs think. Instead, he's only focused on delivering Brexit by October the 31st. In his own words - come what may, do or die. So if he does lose that confidence vote, he won't be going anywhere.
If Mr Johnson loses that confidence vote in September, there's a 14-day period which would allow another government to step in its place. If nothing happens in that time, then it's back over to the prime minister to decide when an election is held. It must be called within 25 days. But Boris Johnson doesn't want an election to happen until the UK has left the EU, knowing that his Conservative party would be under threat from Nigel Farage's Brexit party. So you could imagine Mr Johnson pushing the date back as far as possible until after October the 31st, when the UK automatically has left the EU.
If the general election is held after the UK has left the EU without a deal, then it all comes down to how disruptive a no-deal Brexit is. Mr Johnson would be betting that the disruption could be contained, and he would pitch an election as parliament versus the people. The people who voted Leave in the 2016 referendum, and parliament, the MPs who are trying to stop him from fulfilling that. The Liberal Democrats, on the other hand, would run on a strongly pro-Remain platform, even offer to rejoin the EU to avoid the impact of a no-deal Brexit. And the Labour party? Well, they would try to fight on domestic issues because Brexit is a very complicated matter for them because they don't want to lose the portion of their Leave voters in the north and their Remain voters in the cities. So if we have that election the pollsters say it would be inconclusive. Nobody really knows who will be able to form a government after that poll.
When the UK triggered Article 50 back in March 2017 it started a countdown clock until the UK leaves the EU. The only way to stop that clock is to delay or revoke Article 50. The former prime minister Theresa May delayed Article 50 twice. But Mr Johnson has no intention of doing that. He also has no intention of invoking Article 50. So in this instance, unless another prime minister steps into his place, then the UK will be leaving at the end of October, regardless of what MPs want to do about that.