The new occupant of 10 Downing Street has only one task: To succeed where May failed and deliver Britain’s departure from the EU.
But dig down into the detail, and the reality is that there’s even less time. Take into account the parliamentary recess (lawmakers need vacations, too). Then add the three weeks or so that the House of Commons doesn’t sit in the fall to allow political parties to hold their annual conferences. Throw in weekends, and that leaves about 30 days of parliamentary time to force through a vote on the deal and all of the associated legislation that’s required to get the UK out of the EU.
So how do the two leadership hopefuls plan to do better than May?
Maybe this is true, or maybe it’s wishful thinking. The only certainty is that von der Leyen will not be in post until November 1, which eagle-eyed readers will notice is very much after October 31. Besides, it is not up to her. Any extension would have to be agreed by the other 27 member states of the European Union.
If the EU refuses to make any changes then both men have said that they are prepared to leave without a deal — to the concern of people all over the political spectrum.
Of the two candidates, the favorite, Boris Johnson, has been the most vocal about a no-deal Brexit. He has repeatedly said that his aim was to leave the EU “do or die” on October 31. And without a deal that parliament can swallow, that means no deal.
As recently as this week, British media reported that Johnson’s campaign team were discussing a plan to bring a Queen’s Speech before parliament in early November.
Here’s why that’s significant: A Queen’s Speech — in which the monarch sets out the government’s legislative agenda — marks the start of a new parliamentary session. Traditionally, parliament doesn’t sit in the days leading up to a Queen’s Speech. So if a Prime Minister Johnson wants to hold the event in early November, lawmakers would vacate parliament in those crucial days before October 31, therefore robbing them of the opportunity to stop a no-deal Brexit.
It’s a plausible plan, but would be a very high-risk strategy. Johnson would in effect be challenging the House of Commons to initiate the only other option in the parliamentary armory — to collapse his government.
At the moment, it’s touch and go. It would be nothing short of extraordinary for members of the governing party to conspire with the opposition to vote down their own government. But these are extraordinary times. And to avoid doing so, the new PM might need to call a snap general election to cement both authority and a majority in the House of Commons.
And it’s here that we come back to a Brexit extension for “good reasons.” If there’s no functioning government in London, it’s hard to see that even the most hardline of the EU27 (including French President Emmanuel Macron) would allow the UK simply to crash out with no deal.
So, a renegotiated deal? A suspended parliament and a forced no deal? A cap-in-hand request for the UK’s fourth Brexit extension? A general election? Or an unprecedented demolition of the government?
The only thing we can say for certain is that the next PM will have an absolute nightmare on their plate from the day they take office. And they won’t have much time to wake up from it.