Scenarios for Britain's Brexit crisis

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson. (Geoffroy van der Hasselt, AFP)
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson. (Geoffroy van der Hasselt, AFP)

What next? A tumultuous week in British politics has left Prime Minister Boris Johnson without a majority but so far unable to call an election and with his Brexit strategy in peril.

Here are some possible scenarios for the coming weeks:

Early election 

It now appears a question of when, not if, there will be a snap poll.

Under British law, the next election is not due until 2022 and two-thirds of MPs must agree if the government wants to hold one ahead of time.

Johnson on Wednesday requested an election for mid-October, but the main opposition Labour Party abstained.

Labour said parliament should first approve draft legislation aimed at stopping Johnson taking Britain out of the EU with no deal on October 31.

The government has said it would make a second bid on Monday to push for an election once that legislation is expected to have become law.

But Labour might still oppose Johnson's plan, by pushing instead for another poll date.

Some Labour MPs would prefer a November election, because by then Johnson may have been forced to delay Brexit, weakening his position.

If Labour remains opposed then Johnson could consider other options to force an election.

He could call a no-confidence vote in his own government or introduce a different type of law for an election, which would only require a simple majority of MPs to pass.

'No deal' Brexit 

Britain is currently scheduled to leave the European Union on October 31 whether or not it has agreed a divorce deal with Brussels.

The legislation agreed by MPs this week - which must still be approved by the House of Lords - makes this less likely but not impossible.

It says the prime minister must seek a delay to Brexit if MPs have failed by October 19 either to agree a divorce deal or accept a "no deal" exit.

The majority of MPs are currently opposed to no deal. However, a snap election could see Johnson win a new majority with which to press ahead with no deal.

If there is no election, Johnson has still insisted that he will not postpone Brexit in any circumstances.

Any delay must also be approved by European Union leaders, and they could theoretically refuse.

Brexit with a deal 

Johnson, who took power in July, wants to change the terms of the divorce deal agreed by his predecessor, Theresa May, which was rejected three times by parliament.

His main objection to the plan relates to proposals for keeping open the border between British Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.

The EU insists this so-called backstop provision must stay, and says London has yet to come up with any credible alternative plan.

Johnson is pinning his hopes on an October 17-18 EU summit when he believes the threat of a no-deal Brexit will prompt the bloc to make compromises and allow a last-minute agreement.

Alternatively, some believe May's divorce deal - even still containing the backstop - could be presented to MPs again.

Delay to Brexit 

This week's draft law instructs the government to seek a Brexit delay until January 31, 2020, if Johnson fails to get a deal or secure MPs' support for no deal.

If EU leaders agree, then the government must regularly report on its progress in ongoing negotiations, and if there is still no deal by January 31, the law implies that Brexit would have to be delayed again.

Johnson has warned that the legislation could have the effect of delaying Brexit "potentially for years".

No Brexit at all? 

This prospect seems perhaps the most unlikely but cannot be entirely ruled out.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has promised that, if he wins power, he will hold a second referendum with an option to remain in the European Union.

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