It has been clear for some time now that if the United Kingdom is ever really going to leave the European Union, it would have be this way. The June 2016 referendum was the constitutional equivalent of a straw poll, an empty political gesture from then-Prime Minister David Cameron. There is no binding mechanism in place to force Parliament to act on the results of the vote. Nor, more importantly, is there anything like a clear parliamentary majority in favor of Brexit in the first place, never mind a well-defined coalition that supports leaving under this or that specific set of terms. Opposition to the E.U. has always been split between hard-left socialist Labour members like Michael Foot and Tony Benn on the one hand and Tory reactionaries like Enoch Powell on the other. Teresa May, Johnson’s predecesor, proposed more deals than anyone could count, and not a single one could unite her own party, much less win support outside the Conservative benches, either in the opposition party or among her fellow European leaders. There is never going to be a deal. Brexit has broken Parliament for the foreseeable future. Britain is going gentle into that good night, or not at all.
If you are as cynical as I am, you will probably put your money on the latter. The October 31 deadline for leaving the E.U. is the latest of many that have been approached, passed over, and forgotten about. Angela Merkel has suggested more than once that the characterization of it as a firm cutoff point was inaccurate. Emmanuel Macron in France has gone even further, suggesting that negotiation of any sort of deal by that date is impossible. For both of these leaders, the loose target does not mean that Britain is likely to leave without any terms — they are, with good reason, discounting this possibility altogether. Meanwhile, it is already being reported that Boris is looking ahead to a general election campaign, which he will no doubt hope to fight on the issue of support for Brexit — as if Britain had not already done two of these in the last four years, to say nothing of the referendum.