EU diplomats fear Britain is heading for a no-deal Brexit as Boris Johnson has made clear he is determined to thwart attempts to stop the UK leaving by the Halloween deadline.
Officials in Brussels are said to have been shaken by reports that Mr Johnson’s senior adviser Dominic Cummings has said it is too late for MPs to block a no-deal break on October 31.
– What are the chances of Mr Johnson getting a new deal with Brussels before the end of October?
At the moment, with both sides digging in, they do not look promising. The Prime Minister has said he will not even talk to the EU unless it is prepared to drop the Northern Ireland backstop – something the EU side has said is “unacceptable”.
Pro-EU MPs believe they can but the timings are tight, and the signs are that they will face a fierce constitutional wrangle, with the Government determined to do all it can to hang on until Britain is out of the EU.
– So, how might they go about it?
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has signalled that he is ready to table a no-confidence motion in the Government in early September when MPs return from their summer break.
With Mr Johnson’s working majority in the Commons down to just one, it would potentially only require a handful of Tory rebels opposed to no-deal to join the opposition and defeat the Government.
Not necessarily. Under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (FTPA), the Commons has 14 days in which to pass a motion of confidence in either Mr Johnson’s administration or a new alternative government. If it fails to do so, there has to be a general election.
Former attorney general Dominic Grieve has suggested MPs would try to form a cross-party “government of national unity” to seek a fresh extension of the Brexit date from Brussels while Parliament works out what to do next.
– If they succeed, would Mr Johnson have to step down at that point?
Mr Grieve argues that the prime minister would have no choice but to go if MPs support a new government.
Crucially, it would be up to Mr Johnson to decide the election date, which he could delay until after October 31 by which point – as things stand – Britain would be out of the EU and it would be too late for any new government to do anything about it.
– Can he do that?
Constitutional experts say that under a strict reading of the FTPA there is no requirement on the Prime Minister to resign, even if MPs were to support an alternative government.
However, that would provoke an almighty political storm, potentially dragging the Queen into a constitutional crisis, as well as raising the prospect of a legal challenge.
Just what the outcome of such a battle of wills between the executive and the legislature would be is hard to predict. In the end it could come down to how much political pressure MPs could bring to bear on the Prime Minister – and how determined he was to resist.
His supporters certainly believe so. Mr Cummings is said to be preparing for a “people versus the politicians” campaign to exploit voters’ frustration at the repeated failure of Parliament to deliver on the referendum result.
– What if Mr Johnson does succeed in getting a new deal with Brussels?
It might not seem the likeliest outcome at the moment with both sides refusing to blink, but some MPs believe that as the prospect of a no-deal Brexit approaches it will concentrate minds in both Westminster and Brussels.
The Prime Minister would then have to get it through Parliament – something which Theresa May failed to do with her deal on three occasions.
Depending on what concessions he was able to wring from the EU, Mr Johnson would probably need the support of some pro-Brexit Labour MPs who nevertheless do not want to leave without a deal.
However, his kudos as the man who delivered the EU referendum for Leave may just be enough to see him through.