POLITICS
05/08/2019 5:30 PM AEST

Brexit: This Is How A No-Deal Could Still Be Avoided

The £500 countdown clock Boris Johnson has bought for his office wall is ticking.

PA Wire/PA Images

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised that the UK will leave the EU on October 31 “no ifs no buts”. And unless something changes fast, it looks like we will be exiting without a deal. 

But what does this mean? Can a no-deal Brexit still be stopped? In short: yes. 

1. MPs vote for a deal

MPs repeatedly rejected the agreement Theresa May made with the EU.

Johnson has said he wants a new deal which does not include the Northern Ireland backstop. The EU has said no to this. A lot. Repeatedly. Many times. Again and again. Over and over.

But the PM’s argument is that because the EU leaders never really thought May would take the UK out of the EU without a deal, they did not see the need to concede to demands for the controversial “backstop” be deleted.

The backstop, Brexiteers say, is could keep the UK indefinitely tied to EU rules.

The PM’s plan is that by making the EU truly believe he will force a no-deal Brexit, Brussels will buckle and agree a new deal that MPs will vote for before the end of October. Job... done?

2. The EU extends Article 50

If no new deal emerges, the government could ask the EU to delay Brexit by once again extending Article 50. 

Ursula von der Leyen, the incoming president of the European Commission, has said she would be open to this. French President Emmanual Macron is less keen – but has not closed the door to the possibility. 

Johnson, however, has categorically ruled out asking for an extension. And if he tried it, Tory MPs would go ballistic. 

3. MPs vote to block no-deal

A no-deal exit on October 31 is the current legal default. Senior MPs from across the Commons have been holding talks on how to prevent it.

But while a majority of MPs are against no-deal, it is far from clear what there is a majority for.

Some MPs want Brexit, but for it to be delivered with an agreement. Others want a second referendum. And some want Article 50 to simply be revoked.

4. What if Johnson is no longer prime minister?

There is just about time to squeeze in a sneaky general election before October 31. Johnson has insisted he will not call a snap election – but he could be forced into it.

Jeremy Corbyn has said he could call a vote of no confidence in the government when parliament returns on September 3. The Commons vote would be held on September 4.

Ominously for the prime minister, several Tory MPs have not ruled out siding with Labour to bring down their own government in order to stop no-deal Brexit.

If the government loses it would have until September 18 to try and persuade MPs to change their minds and win a second confidence vote.

Corbyn could try to cobble together a majority with other parties to take over as prime minister without holding an election.

There has also been talk of a government of national unity being assembled by MPs of all parties under the leadership of a senior pro-Remain Tory or Labour MP. 

If not, a general election would be triggered. Parliament would dissolve 25 working days before polling day. 

This means the earliest day a general election could be held would be October 25. Just one week before the October 31 exit day.

If Labour wins the election, Corbyn could then theoretically ask the EU to extend Article 50 at the last minute.

5. What would Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn do?

Labour has been ever-so-slowly inching itself towards a pro-Remain position.

On Sunday, Corbyn suggested as prime minister he would negotiate a new Brexit deal with Brussels and then put this to a referendum.

Many senior Labour figures have been piling pressure on Corbyn to explicitly back Remain. Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, said the party would be “off our bloody rockers” to not back EU membership.

But while Corbyn has now said he would hold a referendum, he has not confirmed whether he would campaign for a Labour Brexit or for Remain.

It is also not clear what would be on the ballot in any second referendum. It could include the option of no-deal. And no-deal could win.