Britain faces limited Brexit options as deadline looms

London - Britain is hurtling toward its October 31 departure from the European Union without a plan for unwinding 46 years of intricate trade ties.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that he will send Brussels his set of solutions "shortly".

But EU leaders have not liked what they have seen from Johnson so far and many questions remain  unanswered as the clock ticks down.


- Brexit delay -


Britain will leave unless it asks for another delay and the other 27 member states unanimously agree.

Johnson has vowed repeatedly not to seek what would be the third extension of a process that began when British voters narrowly backed Brexit in 2016.

Yet parliament has passed legislation ordering Johnson to request one should no new deal emerge at an October 17-18 EU leaders' summit in Brussels.

Johnson has promised to follow the law but he also insists Britain will still leave on October 31, come what may.

His aides are now reportedly trying to think up ways to legally get around the legislation so Johnson does not have to go back on his word.

The issue could end up being settled by the UK Supreme Court.

What next in the Brexit process?


- Brexit deal -


Johnson can still meet the October 31 deadline if he manages to somehow secure a new agreement that wins parliamentary support.

It is a huge task -- not least because EU leaders have poured scorn on versions of Johnson's revised Brexit proposals leaked to the media.

His next challenge would then be to ram the deal through a parliament that has been unable to agree on almost anything for the past year.

Theresa May was forced to resign as prime minister after seeing the deal she had struck with Brussels in 2017 rejected three times.

Johnson has since lost his Conservative party's working majority and must now rely on the backing of some opposition lawmakers ready to back leave but who otherwise mostly want Britain to remain in the EU.

Timeline of key Brexit events in 2019


- 'No-deal' Brexit -


A so-called "no-deal" Brexit is the doomsday scenario feared by the markets and businesses across both Britain and Europe.

The government's own forecasts show Britain potentially running out of food and vital medicine -- and seeing riots on the streets.

The problems stem from decades of interdependence that require goods and services to flow freely and without customs checks.

Businesses fear that even brief border inspections would plug up trade routes and grind their operations to a halt.

What are the risks of a no-deal Brexit?

Brexit supporters counter that the damage would only be felt briefly and is worth the price of Britain having the freedom to set its own policies down the line.

The dangers of a clean and complete rupture forced the other 27 leaders to overcome their reservations and agree two Brexit delays in the first half of the year.

But frustration and resistance to a third postponement is strong in countries such as France.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Tuesday that a no-deal Brexit remained the "most plausible" outcome.

France tests post-Brexit customs procedures


- Early election -


The one thing almost every UK politician can agree on is that an early election is coming -- and probably very soon.

Johnson knows he cannot function with a minority government.

The opposition meanwhile thinks it can seize power by promising voters a new Brexit referendum that might undo the first one and keep the country in Europe.

An early election could be triggered should parliament support a vote of no-confidence in Johnson's government or the prime minister himself resigns.

Johnson might just do so to avoid having to go back on his word and plead for a delay.

The main opposition Labour party has promised to propose a no-confidence motion as soon as Brexit is postponed.


- No Brexit at all -


This largely theoretically option could still happen if Labour and its pro-EU allies win enough support in an election to seize power and schedule a new Brexit poll.

Yet various opinion polls show the country as divided about its place in Europe as it was more than three years ago.

Pro- and anti-European parties have roughly similar backing and there is no guarantee that a new election will break the deadlock.

By Dmitry Zaks