With a month to go before the United Kingdom’s scheduled departure from the EU, the country is gripped by political and constitutional turmoil over Brexit.
Boris Johnson insists the UK will leave the EU on October 31, with or without a divorce deal – even though parliament has legislated to try to prevent a no-deal exit. European leaders meet at a crucial summit on October 17-18.
During September, the prime minister suspension of parliament was ruled unlawful by the UK’s highest court, and the government suffered seven successive defeats over Brexit in parliament.
Read more: Brexit Guide: Where are we now?
Here is a blow-by-blow account of the key events in a tumultuous month:
September 2: UK lawmakers publish their plan to take a no-deal Brexit off the table. The European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill 2019 – dubbed the Benn Bill after its co-sponsor, Labour MP Hilary Benn – aims to block the UK from leaving the EU on October 31 without a deal, unless parliament consents.
September 3: the UK parliament returns to business after its summer recess. Boris Johnson holds last-minute talks with Conservative opponents of his no-deal stance but fails to prevent the threatened rebellion. The government loses its majority-of-one in the House of Commons when one MP, Philip Lee, crosses the floor to join the Liberal Democrats. Twenty-one Tory MPs later vote against the government, which duly suffers a historic defeat by 27 votes, allowing lawmakers to seize control of the parliamentary agenda. The rebels are stripped of the Conservative whip, effectively expelling them from the party.
September 4: MPs vote on the Benn Bill, which sails through the House of Commons (with a majority of 29). The government abandons a plan to block it in the House of Lords. The prime minister loses a third consecutive vote in the lower chamber, when MPs refuse to allow him to call a general election in mid-October.The government abandons plans for an immediate end to free movement from the EU after Brexit.
September 5: Boris Johnson suffers a further blow when his brother Jo Johnson resigns as a minister and says he will stand down as an MP – saying he is “torn between family loyalty and the national interest”. In a speech to police recruits in West Yorkshire, the prime minister says he would “rather be dead in a ditch” than seek another Brexit delay.
September 6: the Benn Bill is passed by the House of Lords, clearing the way for royal assent. Opposition parties agree to rule out a general election before October 31 Brexit deadline. A legal case brought by campaigner Gina Miller and backed by former prime minister John Major, against the government for suspending parliament, is dismissed from the High Court. (The Queen agreed in late August to the prime minister’s request to suspend parliament for five weeks in September and October.)
September 7:Amber Rudd resigns from the government. The Work and Pensions Secretary blames Boris Johnson’s approach to Brexit, claiming there is no evidence the government has serious plans for a deal with the EU – and attacking the expulsion of the Tory rebels as an “assault on decency and democracy… (an) act of political vandalism”.
September 8: Government ministers stress that the UK will leave the EU on October 31, and may look for ways around the anti no-deal legislation.
September 9: Boris Johnson meets Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in Dublin. The meeting is described as constructive but brings no breakthrough over the Irish border. In the UK parliament, the government again fails to secure an October election in another Commons vote. Parliament is finally prorogued in the early hours of the morning, amid raucous scenes in the chamber.
September 10: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tells the Trades Union Congress (TUC) that the Conservatives are intent on “hijacking the referendum result to shift even more power and wealth to those at the top”. Northern Ireland unionists from the DUP dismiss reports that the government is considering softening its opposition to the Irish backstop.
September 11: the High Court judgement vindicating the government over the prorogation of parliament is published, saying it was “not a matter for the courts” and a “purely political” decision. However, in Scotland the government loses in another legal challenge. Edinburgh’s Court of Session rules that the suspension was unlawful because "it had the purpose of stymying Parliament”. There is more damage for the government with forced publication of its “Operation Yellowhammer” documents, giving a grim assessment of the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit.
September 13: House of Commons Speaker John Bercow vows to allow “creativity” if the prime minister ignores a law designed to block no-deal.
September 15: in a newspaper interview Boris Johnson compares the UK to the Incredible Hulk in its struggle to break free of the EU’s “manacles”. The assertion is ridiculed in EU circles. Cold water is also poured on the UK government’s claims that progress has been made towards a deal.
September 16: The prime minister meets European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Luxembourg and they agree to intensify talks. The headlines highlight Johnson’s non-appearance at a planned joint news conference with Luxembourg’s prime minister, due to a noisy anti-Brexit protest. Xavier Bettel faces the press alone, saying the EU will not be portrayed as the “bad guy” if no deal is reached.
September 17: the UK’s Supreme Court begins its hearing on the legality of the prime minister’s suspension of parliament. Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson tells the party conference in Bournemouth she would cancel Brexit by revoking the EU’s Article 50 “on day one” of a Lib Dem government.
September 18: the European Parliament votes to allow a Brexit delay by extending the UK’s EU membership, in the event of such a request. Jean-Claude Juncker tells MEPs the risk of a no-deal Brexit remains "very real". Antii Rinne, Prime Minister of Finland which currently holds the European Council presidency, gives Johnson until the end of the month to set out his Brexit plans, or “it’s over”.
September 19: former Conservative prime minister John Major tells the Supreme Court via his lawyer that Boris Johnson must have had “ulterior motives” for proroguing parliament. The EU confirms that the UK has finally sent proposals for replacing the Irish backstop.
September 21: an opinion poll gives Boris Johnson's Conservatives a 15-point lead over Labour.
September 23: opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wins support for his strategy, as the divided party’s annual conference in Brighton votes to remain neutral for now over whether to leave or remain in the EU. The plan is to win an election, renegotiate the Brexit deal and then decide the party’s stance before a second referendum. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier says the UK government’s stance is “unacceptable”.
September 24: the Supreme Court launches a constitutional bombshell by ruling unanimously that the government’s suspension of parliament was unlawful. Court President Brenda Hale says it stopped parliament from carrying out its “constitutional functions” without good reason. MPs are summoned back to the House of Commons to meet the next day. Boris Johnson, in New York for the UN climate summit, says “I strongly disagree with this judgement”.
September 25: Boris Johnson, back in London, urges MPs as parliament resumes to call a vote of no-confidence in the government, to allow an election. “Will they have the courage to act?” he goads, vowing to refuse to seek a Brexit delay. Amid a foul-tempered session, his language is condemned as “inflammatory” and “dangerous”.
September 27: UK Brexit minister Steve Barclay says Britain and the EU still have “a long way to go” to reach a deal, following talks in Brussels. The Scottish National Party (SNP) says a no-confidence vote could be held the following week. The UK’s police watchdog is asked to investigate the propriety of Boris Johnson’s relations with an American businesswoman when he was London mayor; he denies wrongdoing.
September 29: the Conservative Party conference opens in Manchester. The prime minister vows not to resign. No 10 Downing Street dismisses as “untrue” an allegation that Boris Johnson groped two women in the late 1990s.
September 30: Johnson himself denies this last claim, highlighting his government’s domestic agenda. Late in the day, reports say the UK will this week unveil a detailed Brexit plan to the EU – including proposals to replace the Irish backstop.