On the eve of May 2019 European Union elections, Theresa May announced further proposals seeking to appeal to the various factions of her own party and the Labour Party. It promised conclusion of a trade deal negating the backstop by December 2020, alignment with EU rules on goods relevant to border checks and a proposal that there be a parliamentary vote on whether there should be a second referendum.
Commitments were made on workers’ rights to the effect that they would not be less than the EU level. It committed the UK to align itself with EU regulation to prevent any division and checks between Northern Ireland and GB if the backstop came into force.
Rather than brokering a coalition in favour of the Withdrawal Agreement, it met strong opposition within both the Conservative Party and Cabinet. Her support in cabinet ebbed away. The proposal for a vote on a second referendum was the last straw for her opponents who had been seeking to replace her as Prime Minister for at least most of the previous year.
In the European Parliamentary elections held on 23 May 2019, the Brexit Party took over 31% of the vote with UKIP taking a further 3%. The Liberal Democrats took 20.3% of the vote. The Labour Party took 11.3%, and the Conservative Party took 9.1% of the vote. Theresa May announced her resignation as Conservative Party leader the next day.
The Conservative Party leadership race involved successive rounds of voting by members of Parliament followed by a run-off between the two leading candidates in a ballot of the members. It became apparent from the initial votes that Boris Johnson enjoyed the support of most MPs. On 23 July 2019, he won the vote of two-thirds of the members against foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt. On the following day, he was appointed Prime Minister and was invited by the Queen to form a government.
Boris Johnson appointed a strongly pro-Brexit cabinet bringing in many leading b brexiteers who had resigned from Theresa May’s cabinet or which she had purged with eleven dismissals and six resignations. Dominic Raab was made Foreign Secretary. Dominic Cummings who had been instrumental as an adviser in the “Vote Leave” campaign was appointed senior adviser to the Prime Minister.
Boris Johnson immediately took a hard-line stance on Brexit. In his first speech as Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the United Kingdom would leave the EU on 31 October 2019 (may also apply to new exit date on 31 December 2020) with or without a deal. He insisted that the backstop would be renegotiated and that the threat of a no-deal exit would be instrumental in achieving renegotiation. Some hard-line brexiteers, including members of the Cabinet, announced that the Withdrawal Agreement was unsatisfactory with or without the backstop.
Representatives of the new government decried the EU’s unwillingness to negotiate new terms with what they regard as a new government. The EU saw no basis for discussion, given that the Withdrawal Agreement had been finalised and the new government sought to abandon its basic principles entirely.
Through the summer of 2019, a no-deal Brexit on 31 October 2019 (may also apply to new exit date on 31 December 2020) appeared to be a growing possibility. Sterling weakened considerably against the Euro, and other financial indices reflected nervousness about the possibility. In July 2019, the Irish government stepped up its no-deal planning on the assumption that checks at the Irish border might be required.
Pro- remain, members of the House of Common, broadly Conservative Party rebels and opposition parties discussed how legislation might be passed to force the UK government to request an extension of the Brexit past 31 October 2019 (may also apply to new exit date on 31 December 2020) so as to prevent a no-deal exit on that date.
On 28 August 2019, Boris Johnson announced his intention to prorogue Parliament for three weeks in September in his Queens speech (legislative programme) on 14th October. Prorogation usually occurs annually between sessions of Parliament in the United Kingdom for a few days. The proposal was greeted with outrage as an abuse of the unwritten UK constitution, and legal action was commenced in Scottish courts and English courts challenging its legality.
On 4 September 2019 with the assistance of the Speaker of the House of Commons, the opposition combined with 21 rebel remain Conservative MPs to pass legislation put forward by Hilary Benn requiring the Prime Minister to request an extension to the exit date until 31 January 2020 unless a Withdrawal Agreement had been approved by Parliament before 31 October 2019 (may also apply to new exit date on 31 December 2020).
Prime Minister Johnson sought a general election which required the consent of two-thirds of the members of Parliament. The opposition refused, on the basis that the Prime Minister might seek to engineer a no-deal Brexit it during the Parliamentary hiatus of the election period
Just before the prorogation of Parliament on 9 September 2019, the Benn legislation became law. Boris Johnson promised that he would not request an extension under any circumstances and there was much speculation as to how he might circumvent the legislation.
On 24 September 2019, the UK Supreme Court in appeals from England and Scotland to the challenge to the prorogation of Parliament, in a unanimous decision of an 11-member court, decided that the prorogation was unlawful and void. Parliament was recalled the next day
Boris Johnson continued to promise to leave the EU on 31 October 2019 (may also apply to new exit date on 31 December 2020), come what may, notwithstanding the legislation requiring him to request an extension. Litigation was commenced in Scotland seeking an order requiring him to sign the letter requesting an extension, but it was adjourned as premature.
An EU council meeting, which could in principle approve a revision of the Withdrawal Agreement was scheduled for 17 October 2019. On 2 October 2019, the UK government published proposals for an alternative to the Irish backstop. Northern Ireland would align with the EU on regulatory standards with checks in the Irish Sea. This was to require the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly before it came into force.
Under the proposal, NI would remain part of the UK customs union with customs checks between Northern Ireland and Ireland. It proposed that the checks would take place on a decentralised basis, assisted by technology away from the border. The DUP accepted the proposals and are criticised by other unionists for accepting a regulatory border in the Irish Sea.
The entire proposal was rejected by the Irish government and the EU on the basis that it neither protected the EU single market adequately, did not do enough to meet the objectives of avoiding a border on the island of Ireland, and was subject to the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The EU refused to reopen negotiations on the agreement.