Will a deal be done? Johnson’s plan for Britain

by Anna Beaumont
With just 58 days until the UK is due to leave the EU, the coming weeks may not only define the UK’s future relationship with the EU but also have lasting implications for UK democracy and its constitution.

While the nation’s representatives have been clearing the backlog of constituency work during recess, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been keeping busy executing his plans for Britain’s departure from the EU.

With continuous briefings, leaking, and meetings with European and world leaders, Johnson has sought to renegotiate the Irish backstop while simultaneously progressing in the early stages of Britain’s future outside of the EU. 

Preparing for the return of Parliament, Johnson has made clear that MPs should not stand in the way of his Brexit plans, declaring it is Parliament’s job to deliver Brexit and “get things done”. However, from what we have seen over the summer (from MPs flirting with the idea of a government of national unity, to plans to attempt the seize the order paper and convene an alternative parliament) it is clear that Parliament is prepared to stop Johnson in his tracks.  

The question of the constitutional appropriateness for the Government to prorogue (suspend) Parliament to achieve its desired Brexit outcome has been discussed extensively after Dominic Rabb first raised it during the Conservative leadership race. While early speculation forced Speaker Bercow to declare it an absurd proposition, the Prime Minister nonetheless successfully had the Queen prorogue Parliament until some 17 days before Brexit day. In doing so, the Prime Minister has committed himself to tumultuous weeks ahead with key MPs seemingly prepared to resort to any means necessary to prevent no-deal.  

While the talk of installing a national unity government into power to block a no-deal has long passed, Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer has confirmed that he is working with MPs of all parties to prepare for the return of Parliament on Tuesday. It is believed that MPs will seek control of the order paper with help of Speaker Bercow, and then attempt to force through legislation requiring the UK to seek another extension of Article 50 beyond 31 October.  Parliament could choose to sit over the weekend to pass the Bill before prorogation, with opposition leaders looking to build upon the majority of 41 gained during previous attempts to bind the Government in July. Worrying for Parliament, Government Minister Michael Gove refused to confirm whether the executive would abide by any laws passed, and the Whips have suggested Conservative MPs who vote against the Government would be barred from standing as a party candidate in the next general election. 

Is Johnson preparing for a snap general election? From a round of spending commitments on hospitals and schools, to a stronger focus on “law and order”, the actions from 10 Downing Street increasingly appear to be laying the groundwork for a campaign to boost the Government’s working majority of one. 

How these key moments unfold will affect the UK’s divorce from the EU, as well as the future relationship. Labour will be reluctant to call a vote of no confidence until it believes it has the backing of rebel Tories, some of whom may shift their stance over prorogation or if a Brexit deal remains a possibility. The success of Johnson’s keynote speech at the Conservative Party conference will be crucial to retain the confidence of his MPs and secure the belief of his party in his ability to lead.  

As we approach the impending 31 October Brexit withdrawal date, the upcoming EU summit will prove a testing point for Johnson’s leadership. He will reiterate his demand for the removal of the Irish backstop from the deal, while the EU will continue to say, “show me how”.  

Despite all the uncertainties in the upcoming weeks one thing remains clear - Prime Minister Johnson’s commitment to withdraw from the European Union on 31 October 2019, with or without a deal.