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Supreme Court’s Ruling Snarls Boris Johnson’s Brexit Plan


Supreme Court’s Ruling Snarls Boris Johnson’s Brexit Plan

LONDON—The U.K. Supreme Court’s ruling that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s five-week suspension of Parliament was unlawful ramps up the pressure on Mr. Johnson to reach a Brexit deal with the European Union.

As Parliament reconvenes this week, the prime minister’s ability to deliver on his signature pledge to take the U.K. out of the EU on Oct. 31 is dwindling. He is left with little option but to race against the clock to agree on a new withdrawal package with the EU in time for a critical summit of the bloc’s leaders Oct. 17 and 18.

The stumbling block is how to avoid a border appearing post-Brexit on the island of Ireland. Officials on both sides say they are working at speed to find a solution to that but a new deal looks like a remote possibility unless Mr. Johnson significantly shifts from his current positions.

Any deal reached would need to be brought back to London and approved by Parliament for Brexit to happen.

The U.K.’s Supreme Court ruled that Prime Minister Boris Johnson acted unlawfully when he suspended Parliament for five weeks using a procedure known as prorogation. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA wire/Zuma Press

If a new deal isn’t secured at that summit, Parliament has legislated that Mr. Johnson must by Oct. 19 request an extension to Jan. 31 to allow for further negotiations and prevent Britain from exiting without an agreement to smooth its departure.

Mr. Johnson has said he would rather “die in a ditch” than delay Brexit for a third time. Brexit was originally planned for March 29.

The standoff means the U.K. is almost certainly heading for a general election, though the precise timing of any poll isn’t clear.

Deal or No Deal?

How the Brexit crisis could play out in coming weeks.

EU Conference

(Oct. 17-18)

Johnson returns with a deal

Johnson returns without a deal

Govt. asks for extension until Jan.31. 2020

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Govt. refuses to ask for extension

These two options could happen simultaneously

Parliament ousts Johnson or he resigns.*

Parliament fails

to agree on

caretaker govt.

Govt. asks for extension until Jan.31. 2020†

Mr. Johnson has been pushing for a snap poll within weeks. But he needs two-thirds of the House of Commons’ 650 lawmakers to agree to hold a vote. Opposition parties are resisting, preferring to wait until a Brexit deal is reached or an extension secured before sanctioning an election.

That leaves Mr. Johnson facing the prospect of fighting an election without having delivered Brexit, likely a harder fight to win than if he had. The hard-line Brexit Party has been wooing previously loyal Conservative voters irritated by slow progress on leaving the EU.

An alternative route to an election, especially if Mr. Johnson refuses to seek the extension required by law, would be for opposition parties to call—and win—a vote of no confidence in Mr. Johnson’s government.

Under parliamentary rules, any successful no-confidence vote is followed by a 14-day period for the formation of a new administration that can command a parliamentary majority. Opposition lawmakers have said they hope within that time to nominate a caretaker prime minister—possibly Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn or another lawmaker who opposed a no-deal exit—with a limited, two-pronged mandate: getting the extension and setting an election date after Oct. 31, probably in November or early December.

An extension needs the unanimous agreement of the other 27 EU members. European diplomats say it would likely be granted to give time for a British general election.

Write to Jason Douglas at

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