As the October 31st deadline for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union approaches, internal divisions and constitutional debates continue to stifle British politics.
The current deadlock in Parliament is largely a result of the ongoing divisions between and within the various political parties. Despite numerous parliamentary votes since the 2016 referendum, where 52% of the population voted to leave the EU, no consensus has been reached on the path forward. While the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party have continued to call for the country to remain in the EU, the main dispute is largely on the question of whether or not to leave the supranational organisation with a deal.
Both the governing Conservatives and the main opposition party, Labour, are largely in agreement over the preference of departing with a deal but fissures have emerged amongst the Conservatives over the urgency. For Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the current deal negotiated by his predecessor Theresa May is unacceptable due to its inclusion of the so-called “backstop,” an insurance policy intended to preserve an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland in the absence of a new agreement. A key promise in Johnson’s leadership campaign was that the U.K. leaves the EU on Halloween, a position that he has reaffirmed since claiming that he’d “rather be dead in a ditch” than ask for an extension from the European Union. Despite this, twenty-one fellow party members were recently expelled from the Conservative Party for voting against the government, including former cabinet ministers as well as Winston’s Churchill’s grandson. At the same time, ministers from his own government have resigned from the cabinet, including the prime minister’s own brother.
However, the legality of the prime minister’s current strategy has been increasingly challenged. Under the country’s unwritten constitution, parliament is considered sovereign and has the final say over any agreement and can overrule the government. In early September, a narrow majority of members of parliament voted to block the government from carrying out a “no-deal Brexit.” Despite this being the law, which requires the government to request an extension if a deal has not been reached by the end of October, Johnson has stood by his pledge to not ask for a delay for Brexit. How this will be carried out remains unclear though could potentially occur by sending a formal request to the European Council, thereby meeting the letter of the law, while at the same time reiterating his opposition and the unlikelihood of any meaningful progress during ongoing negations.