Back in June, Boris Johnson said the U.K. would leave the EU on Oct. 31 “come what may. Do or die.” On Sept. 2 he said: “We are leaving on 31 October, no ifs or buts.” Days later, when asked about delaying Brexit, the prime minister said: “I'd rather be dead in a ditch.”
On Monday, Johnson was forced to walk back all those claims when the EU agreed to another three-month extension — an offer the government has to accept by law.
The "flextension" offered by Brussels on Monday means the U.K. now has until Jan. 31 to leave the EU, but it could do so on the first day of November, December, or January, if it can get the withdrawal deal ratified by Parliament.
The delay to Brexit will be yet another crushing blow to Johnson’s time in charge of the U.K., which has seen him lose multiple votes in Parliament and have the future of Brexit wrested from his control.
Johnson will ask Parliament to hold a snap election on Dec. 12, but that effort seems doomed, too. The Labour Party has indicated that it will abstain from voting on Johnson’s call for a Dec. 12 election, meaning the prime minister will be unable to obtain the two-thirds majority he needs to trigger the vote.
It took just 20 minutes on Monday morning for European leaders to rubber-stamp the extension, with Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, saying that Brexit could take place soon if the U.K. Parliament can get it together enough to ratify the deal they negotiated with Johnson.
“The EU27 has agreed that it will accept the UK’s request for a new flextension until 31 January 2020. The decision is expected to be formalized through a written procedure,” Tusk tweeted.
Following months of rancorous fighting among lawmakers, there's little sign that Westminster can reach a consensus on anything any time soon.
But, over the weekend, an unlikely route forward emerged.
A fresh plan, put forward by the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats, to hold an election on December 9, would require a majority of just a single vote and the government has said that if its own vote fails, then it could back this plan.
A general election is seen by most as the clearest path to finding a way out of the Brexit mess that has embroiled Westminster for the last three years.
Johnson’s “do or die” effort to get Brexit done by the Halloween deadline was one of the main reasons he was elected as Tory party leader over the summer, and until late last week he continued to claim a departure on Oct. 31 was still possible.
He has yet to respond to the EU’s announcement.
Cover: Britain's Prime Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street to attend the weekly Prime Ministers' Questions session, in parliament in London, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)