Supreme Court ruling clear, but Brexit future still murky

National News

Pro and anti-Brexit supporters hold signs and flags while demonstrating outside the Parliament in London, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. Lawmakers in Britain are returning to the House of Commons on Wednesday, following a Supreme Court ruling that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had acted illegally by suspending Parliament. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

LONDON (AP) — The landmark British Supreme Court ruling that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suspension of Parliament was unlawful did not deal directly with plans for Britain’s anticipated departure from the European Union. Brexit will however be top of the agenda in Parliament now that lawmakers have returned.

Questions abound over how all this affects Brexit.

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WHAT IS THE LEGAL SITUATION?

As things stand, Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on Oct. 31 unless the British government requests an extension and the other 27 EU countries agree to a further delay.

However, Parliament passed a bill earlier this month before Johnson suspended Parliament requiring the prime minister to seek a three-month extension if no withdrawal agreement has been reached with the EU by Oct. 19.

Johnson insists that he is pursuing a deal with the EU, but has repeatedly said that if there is no deal, he will take Britain out of the EU on the scheduled Brexit date rather than request an extension.

For most economists, including those in government and the Bank of England, a no-deal Brexit would trigger a recession as trade barriers, including tariffs, are put up between Britain and the EU. There’s also a widespread expectation that there will be gridlock at Britain’s ports, and shortages of some food and medicine.

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DOES THE SUPREME COURT RULING CHANGE THIS?

No. Supreme Court President Brenda Hale went out of her way to make clear that the ruling would not have any impact on Britain’s departure. The ruling does mean that the legislature has more time to challenge the government and take concrete legislative steps to try to prevent a no-deal split with the EU.

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WHAT MORE CAN PARLIAMENT DO TO STOP A NO-DEAL BREXIT?

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said Wednesday that opposition parties will now seek to find further legal ways to make sure Johnson complies with the legislation preventing no-deal that is already on the statute book. Backers of the bill that has already passed fear Johnson is looking for loopholes that might allow him to sidestep the law.

Johnson has emphasized repeatedly that there are no circumstances under which he would seek an extension. If that is the case, his options are somewhat limited. To make good on that assertion, he would either have to reach a deal with the EU — and have that passed by Parliament — resign and let another prime minister deal with the matter, or find a way he believes he can avoid seeking an extension despite the legislation.

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WILL PARLIAMENT TRY TO BRING JOHNSON DOWN?

It doesn’t look like anything is imminent. Labour Party leader Corbyn says the opposition’s top priority is to halt a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31. He and other opposition figures say they will only call a vote of no confidence in the government and seek a new election once an extension has been agreed.

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WHAT HAPPENS IF THERE IS NO DEAL AND NO EXTENSION REQUEST?

It’s not clear. Parliament would likely try to force the issue on an urgent basis, but by law, the EU has to negotiate with the British government, not with legislators. It is likely that legislators would immediately rush to the courts seeking to force Johnson’s hand and prevent a no-deal Brexit. The fact that the 11 Supreme Court judges ruled against the government in the suspension case suggests a willingness to intervene to assert Parliament’s important constitutional role, so it is entirely possible an epic court battle would ensue, all taking place against the ticking clock of the Oct. 31 deadline.

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WOULD AN ELECTION BREAK THE IMPASSE?

Corbyn’s Labour Party opposes a no-deal Brexit. It wants to come to power, negotiate a new deal with the EU then have a nationwide referendum on whether to endorse the new deal or remain inside the bloc. The party has not said which option it would back, though the vast majority of members in the party appear to prefer to remain in the EU.

The much smaller Liberal Democrats say they would end the Brexit process immediately if they win the next election by revoking the Article 50 process that governs a country’s withdrawal from the EU.

The Scottish National Party and some smaller parties also favor staying in the EU and back another referendum.

The Brexit Party headed by Nigel Farage would favor leaving without a deal over the deal negotiated by former Prime Minister Theresa May that was rejected three times by Parliament.

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ANYTHING ELSE TO BREAK THE IMPASSE?

It’s clear Johnson and Parliament remain on a collision course. The pressure would ease if there is real, substantial progress in the negotiations between British and European officials, particularly over the Irish border. The two sides are holding regular meetings at a relatively low level and hopes for a breakthrough are muted. If there is a new deal that wins parliamentary support, the no-deal threat would be lifted and Britain could move toward an orderly departure.

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Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit and British politics at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit

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