Making sense of UK politics is really hard right now.  My headline from tonight is that whilst politics just got a whole lot more chaotic, nothing has changed in terms of what business should do: prepare for no-deal and be ready for an election that could have all sorts of very different outcomes.  

There will be an election soon – we don’t know when, but the exact timing may be critical to the outcome of Brexit and the election.  And no-deal on 31 October remains the default and is still a likely Brexit outcome.

Here’s the longer read on why that is the case:

21 Conservative MPs voted against Boris Johnson today and helped defeat the government.

MPs voted to agree to debate a bill tomorrow (Tuesday) that will try to delay Brexit. They have not yet passed a bill that does so – today’s vote was a procedural one. 

We must wait until Friday or even Monday before we know if the bill to try to stop no-deal has passed the Commons and Lords and been given royal assent (i.e. becomes law). If the bill is passed, it only requires government to ask the EU to delay Brexit - every single EU leader then has to agree.  It is not a cast-iron guarantee against no-deal Brexit.

If MPs in the Commons vote through the Brexit delay bill tomorrow and pass it to the Lords, the Prime Minister will table a vote to hold an election. Jeremy Corbyn has said Labour will oppose this until the Brexit delay bill becomes law – which could be Friday or Monday (provided the Government does not succeed in frustrating the bill in the Lords). 

There will be a wrangle over how to call an election – if it is agreed under the ‘Fixed-Term Parliament Act’ then two thirds of MPs have to vote in favour but the date can the  be changed by the government (potentially delaying election until after a 31 October and enabling a no-deal Brexit).  Another route would be to have a bill that overrides the fixed-term parliament process, this only needs a simple majority of MPs but also needs House of Lords approval and could be amended including setting in stone the election date.  

Even if the ‘delay Brexit’ bill become law and an election is after 31 October, we could still have no-deal as in theory a determined Prime Minister could provoke EU leaders into rejecting any request to delay Brexit.  Or the election may be won by a party or coalition that supports no-deal and brings it forward very soon after 31 October.

This is a chaotic, turbulent time in politics.  We simply can’t predict exactly what will happen.  But we know that there remains a high chance of a no-deal Brexit and we will have an election that could have all manner of outcomes (continued deadlock in Parliament, a no-deal Conservative-Brexit party coalition or a Labour-SNP government).  

In short, my advice is unchanged:  business still needs to prepare for no-deal on 31 October. And businesses should assess the implications of a range of election outcomes - for an election that will take place sometime between 15 October and mid December. Business agility will be critical during such an uncertain and volatile autumn.