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Brexit countdown: The scramble to build barriers to Boris

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson visits the Fusion Energy Research Centre at the Culham Science Centre on August 8, 2019 in Abingdon, England. Photo: Julian Simmonds - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Boris Johnson has ordered the U.K.'s civil service to make preparations for a no-deal Brexit its "top priority," a directive that comes the same week the government has reportedly drawn up plans to stop British diplomats from attending EU meetings.

Why it matters: 3 weeks into his premiership, Johnson appears hell-bent on fulfilling the campaign promise that paved his path to Downing Street: delivering Brexit on Oct. 31, "do or die."

  • The problem? There is no parliamentary majority for a no-deal Brexit, which carries potential consequences ranging from recession to drug shortages to the slaughter of millions of sheep.
  • That has Parliament, which returns from recess on Sept. 3, plotting ways to stop Johnson and the runaway Brexit train.

Option #1 is a legislative fix forcing the government to seek another extension from the EU. But with no amendable Brexit bills on the agenda, MPs don't have a clear mechanism to pass binding legislation.

  • Johnson's top adviser, Dominic Cummings, has also suggested Johnson could suspend Parliament to get Brexit over the line.
  • Commons Speaker John Bercow vowed to fight such a move with "every bone in my body."

Option #2 is a vote of no-confidence brought by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, which would give MPs a window of 14 days to form a caretaker government with the express purpose of blocking no-deal.

  • There would likely be a majority for a so-called "government of national unity" — if not for the contempt many MPs have for Corbyn. Jo Swinson, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said Thursday that she'd do "whatever it takes" to stop a no-deal ... but she won't do that.
  • Even if there was a majority, the Machiavellian Cummings has suggested Johnson isn't legally required to resign after losing a no-confidence vote, and would instead hold a "people vs. politicians" general election — after Brexit on Oct. 31.

That leads us to Option #3: The 93-year-old, historically apolitical Queen Elizabeth II is the only person with the absolute authority to sack Johnson and stop a no-deal.

  • A royal intervention would be dramatic (and a boon for Netflix as it launches season 3 of The Crown), but it's highly unlikely.

Go deeper: Nancy Pelosi rules out U.K. trade deal if Brexit creates hard Irish border