Market Outlook – Brexit

The UK political landscape has been in turmoil since a divisive 2016 referendum on European Union (EU) membership, when the UK voted in favour of leaving (Brexit). In the continuing disarray around Brexit, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his fellow “Brexiteers” suffered a further setback on 11 September, when a Scottish court ruled that Johnson’s move to shut down Parliament was unlawful.

This finding was appealed to the Supreme Court, which on 25 September found that government shut down Parliament illegally, meaning Parliament is technically still in session. A few possible scenarios could play out before the current Brexit deadline of 31 October at 23:00 GMT.
 
Following the Supreme Court verdict, Johnson insisted the UK is discussing a new Brexit deal. We imagine he is willing to compromise to persuade his EU counterparts to budge enough to allow him to strike an exit deal.
 
If the parties come to an agreement backed by UK MPs BEFORE 31 October, the need for an extension falls away. However, the UK wants a deal with the major stumbling block, the so-called Irish border backstop, dropped. This is a measure aimed at guaranteeing no border checks or physical infrastructure on the border between Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (a country remaining in the EU).
 
The backstop goes back to a 1989 peace agreement which has an open border as a critical part of the armistice. The EU has insisted Northern Ireland would have to remain closely aligned to it, to avoid a hard border and has been intransigent, stating that getting rid of the backstop is non-negotiable, unless the UK comes up with a viable alternative.
 
A no-deal or hard Brexit is the default position. However, Parliament has changed the law to force Johnson to ask for a delay if a deal hasn't been done and dusted by the end of 19 October. Leaving without an agreement means the UK would immediately exit the customs union and single market (arrangements designed to make trade easier), which some commentators have warned means significant damage to the economy.
 
Johnson has indicated that he wants to have an UK election soon, after his motion for an election on 15 October was defeated. To date, government has twice failed to get two-thirds of MPs to support an early election. Nevertheless, the opposition could support an election in a third vote. The alternative is a new law specifying the date of an early general election, as it would require only a simple and not a two-thirds majority.
 
The opposition could also call for a vote of no confidence in government at any point and Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn has said he would table such a motion. Johnson could also call a no-confidence vote in his own government. If more MPs vote for a no-confidence motion than against it, there would be a 14-day window to see if the current government (or an alternative one with a new PM) could win a vote of confidence. If no-one does, a general election follows.
 
A second Brexit referendum is unlikely to happen, albeit not impossible. Opposition parties could unite to try to bring about a second referendum.
 
A final legal option is to cancel Brexit by revoking Article 50 (the UK invoked Article 50 of the Treaty on the EU on 29 March 2017 and thus began its exit from the bloc). However, by all accounts, this is not something the current UK government is contemplating - so this outcome is only likely after an election and a change of government.

Written exclusively for Moore Stephens by Anchor Capital