Halloween hell or Brexit heaven for Johnson?

Will Boris Johnson experience a political nightmare on Downing Street this Halloween, as his “do or die” promise to pull Britain from the EU with or without a deal faces doom, or can his explosive leadership style see him succeed?

– What is at stake?

The Prime Minister’s credibility among Leave voters, according to many observers.

Plus, the country’s economic stability, according to MPs who have pushed legislation through Parliament aimed at blocking a no-deal Brexit next month.

– Why is Boris Johnson against the Bill to kill no-deal?

The PM calls the move the “Surrender Bill”, which he claims robs the UK of its major weapon in the exit war from the EU – the ability to walk out without an agreement.

Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Yui Mok/PA)

After Parliament backed a cross-party bid insisting the Government should seek a Brexit extension beyond October 31, if a withdrawal agreement with the EU is not reached by the time of the European heads of government summit next month, Mr Johnson insisted he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than follow out the instructions of MPs.

Those backing the Bill insist they are acting in the national interest and not wrecking Brexit by allowing a further three months breathing space, until the end of January, to try to hammer out a deal that would see the UK leave the bloc on the best available terms.

– How has the PM tried to thwart the Brexit extension move?

Mr Johnson, who has said a no-deal Brexit would represent a failure on all sides, thought he could bounce the country into an emergency so-called “people vs Parliament” general election in which he could portray himself as the Mr Brexit who would take Britain out of the EU at the end of October, come what may.

But the opposition would not play ball and the PM could not summon the support of the two thirds of MPs needed under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act (FPA).

– What now?

The PM is making a further attempt under the FPA on Monday night, which also looks likely to fail.

Mr Johnson could move a no-confidence motion in his own Government to try to force an early general election.

Such political manoeuvring would only need a majority of one to pass, but it would be a highly unusual, if not bizarre looking, way to prompt a national poll.

There is also no certainty Mr Johnson could even manage a majority of one, after snatching the Tory whip from more than twenty MPs after they defied him and backed the bill intended to kill off no-deal.

– Could such a move hand the keys of Number 10 to someone else?

Yes. A no-confidence defeat would allow the opposition and whipless Tories two weeks to try to form an alternative administration.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been rejected as an interim PM by a number of senior campaigners against no-deal, but a figure like ex-Tory chancellor Ken Clarke could command broader support.

Jeremy Corbyn
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Mr Johnson could also resign as PM so that he is not in power on October 31, and then fight the general election, which is likely in November, as Tory leader.

With Mr Johnson’s highly contentious proroguing, or suspension, of Parliament until October 14, MPs have little time to act.

– What are the PM’s other options for a no-deal October exit from the EU?

With the EU27 standing firm against renegotiation, the simplest way would be to try to tweak Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement at the EU summit on October 17/18 and present it as some sort of Brussels back-down on the Northern Ireland backstop.

If such a move happened, and passed the Commons with the backing of opposition MPs, Mr Johnson could claim he had kept his withdrawal pledge even though a sizeable chunk of Tory Eurosceptics would be likely to vote against it.

– Could Boris end up behind bars?

According to some legal experts, yes.

With conflicting signals, the Government has insisted it will obey the law set down by Parliament, but also that it will not ask for another extension from the EU if no exit agreement is made as that law requires.

If, as would seem likely, the matter ended up in the Supreme Court if Mr Johnson refused to ask the EU for a Brexit delay, and judges ruled against the PM, he could face jail time if he stands his ground and ignores the judgment, a number of legal experts have said.

Government sources have also briefed the press that the Government may take the legislation to the courts itself in a bid to try to have it legally voided.

– Could the PM make Brussels bite back?

Suggestions have been made that Mr Johnson could send a letter requesting an EU extension, along with a joint political statement insisting he does not actually want one, in order to try to provoke the EU27 into rejecting it.

Another option floated as a way to goad Brussels into throwing Britain out of the bloc would be refusing to put forward a UK commissioner for the EU.

However, many observers feel that neither scenario is likely to achieve Mr Johnson’s desired aim.

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