Time is running out for Boris Johnson who has said a no-deal Brexit would represent a failure on all sides.
The Prime Minister is determined to leave the European Union on October 31 “do or die” – and while a no-deal departure looks increasingly likely as the clock ticks down, Mr Johnson and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar agree they can still “see a pathway to a possible deal”.
The PA news agency has a look at what will happen next and what a no-deal Brexit actually means.
– What is the problem?
The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said they have yet to see any “operational, legally binding solution” to the issue of the Northern Ireland backstop.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Mr Varadkar both expressed concern that the return of customs controls threatened the Good Friday Agreement guarantee to maintain an open border with the Republic.
But Mr Johnson has insisted that his Brexit plan is a “fair and reasonable compromise” that all sides can agree on.
Political parties in Northern Ireland, not counting the DUP, have also expressed major concerns, with Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill saying the proposals “drive a coach and horses” through the Good Friday Agreement.
– Is there long left to sort things out?
The UK is scheduled to leave the European Union on October 31 but the EU heads of government summit in Brussels on October 17/18 will be crucial.
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay is meeting EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels on Friday.
And the talks will be key to assessing if the meeting between the PM and Taoiseach resulted in any kind of breakthrough that could be built on ahead of the summit.
– What if a deal is not reached?
The UK will leave the customs union and single market, the measures which currently keep trade flowing freely.
The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic will, therefore, become the frontier between the European Union and a “third country” outside its rules.
Mr Varadkar has promised to do “everything we can to avoid checks on or near the border” but inspections would take place at ports, airports and businesses.
The UK’s no deal planning chief Michael Gove told MPs “we will have no checks at the border and no tariffs” but “we wait to see what Ireland and the EU Commission will decide”.
– What problems will a no-deal scenario potentially throw up?
There are fears that leaving the EU without a deal in place could hit imports of food and medicine.
Just last week, NHS Wales unveiled a so-called “Brexit Warehouse” to store around 1,000 extra products including medical gloves, needles and dressings at a cost of about £5 million.
Members of the public have been discouraged from panicking and stockpiling.
– Is the Government prepared for a no-deal Brexit?
It says it is. It published a Brexit “no-deal readiness” report this week in which Mr Johnson declared that he can “confidently” say the UK is prepared to leave the EU without a deal on October 31.
The document includes details of the Government’s attempts to make sure that citizens and businesses are ready for Brexit at the end of the month.
It reiterates that the Government would prefer to leave the EU with a deal and says it “will work to the final hour to achieve one”.
The paper says the Government has been preparing to leave without a deal since 2016, and in that time says it has announced more than £4 billion for Brexit planning before July 24 2019 and recruited up to 1,000 new staff to help maintain security and support flows at the border.
– But is it ready for a worst-case scenario?
A secret Whitehall dossier, relating to Operation Yellowhammer, outlining the disruption the UK could face in the event of a no-deal Brexit, was released by the Government last month after a demand by MPs.
The document claims to outline the Government’s “reasonable worst-case planning assumptions”, and warns that some fresh supplies will decrease.
It suggests that there may be a rise in public disorder and community tensions, and says the flow of cross-Channel goods could be reduced to 40% of current rates on day one.
Mr Gove has said that the Government is taking “and have taken” steps to mitigate the scenarios outlined in the document.
– So will the UK be leaving the European Union on October 31?
If you believe Mr Johnson, then it’s an emphatic yes.
But the Benn Act – the legislation rushed through Parliament after backbenchers took control of the Commons agenda – requires the Prime Minister to seek a delay to Brexit if MPs have not approved a deal, or agreed to leave the EU without one, by October 19.
Mr Johnson has repeatedly said he will both obey the law and meet the Halloween deadline with or without a deal – but he has not been clear about how he intends to do both things.
It could all result in yet another constitutional crisis being played out in the courts.