LONDON (AP) — Britain is due to leave the European Union in just over three weeks, but still no one knows the terms of the divorce — or even whether the country will really meet that Oct. 31 deadline.
With both the U.K. and the EU saying this is a make-or-break week in the long-running Brexit drama, a look at what could happen next.
DEAL OR NO DEAL?
Almost a year ago, Britain and the EU struck a withdrawal agreement setting out the terms of Britain’s departure. Britain’s Parliament then rejected it three times, the U.K.’s departure date was postponed twice and Prime Minister Theresa May resigned in frustration and failure.
Last week, her replacement, Boris Johnson, sent the EU a new proposal. He calls it a “reasonable compromise” that solves the thorniest issue in the Brexit talks — how to maintain an open border between the U.K.’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.
The bloc says the proposals don’t fulfil the U.K.’s commitment to a frictionless border, because there would have to be customs checks on some goods, and because the arrangement would be subject to review by politicians in Northern Ireland.
Johnson has urged EU leaders to compromise and sit down for face-to-face talks. So far, the EU is resisting, saying the U.K. must show more “realism” in its proposals.
The last scheduled opportunity to reach a deal is Oct. 17-18, when all 28 EU leaders, including Johnson, are due to meet in Brussels. French President Emmanuel Macron has said the EU will decide by the end of this week whether a deal is possible, or whether the two sides should buckle up for a rocky no-deal departure.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?
Johnson insists Britain will leave the EU on Oct. 31, with or without a divorce deal. But many EU leaders simply don’t believe him.
Many British lawmakers believe a no-deal Brexit would be economically devastating and socially destabilizing, and are determined to prevent it. Last month, opposition legislators with support from rebel members of Johnson’s Conservative Party passed a law ordering the government to seek a delay to Brexit if no deal has been struck by Oct. 19.
Johnson insists he won’t ask the EU to postpone Brexit — but also says the government will obey the law.
That has left some speculating the government will try to challenge the law in the courts. Others think Johnson is bluffing, and that when push comes to shove he will either do as Parliament orders, or resign and let someone else send the extension letter.
All 27 other EU members would have to agree to a postponement. The bloc is thoroughly frustrated by the endless Brexit melodrama, but also eager to avoid the disruption of a no-deal Brexit, so it is likely to agree.
ELECTION TO UNBLOCK THE DEADLOCK?
More than three years after voting to leave the EU, Britain is stuck because its Parliament, like the country as a whole, is divided about how, or even whether, to leave.
Both government and opposition say they want an election to break the deadlock — but they can’t agree on when.
Parliament has twice rejected calls by the government to hold an early election, fearing Johnson planned to time it so Britain would leave the EU without a deal during the election period.
Opposition parties say they will agree trigger a poll once no-deal Brexit has been ruled out. That could mean an election in late November or December.
Opposition politicians have discussed trying to oust the government with a vote of no confidence, and replacing Johnson with a national-unity leader who would serve only until an election. But the plan has foundered because the parties can’t agree on a unity candidate to lead an interim administration.
When an election comes, Johnson’s “do or die” pledge to leave the bloc on Halloween is likely to form the basis of a “people vs. Parliament” campaign. He will aim to win the votes of Brexit supporters by arguing that he tried his utmost to take the U.K. out of the bloc but was frustrated by Parliament and the EU.
The Conservatives hope that will give them a majority in Parliament, and with it the ability to leave the EU on terms of the government’s choosing. But there is every chance it could produce a legislature as messily divided as it is now.