One option under consideration in Number 10 is that, if the EU accepted in principle Johnson’s customs partnership for the Northern Ireland proposal without a backstop, but said it needed more time to iron out the details, Johnson could agree to a three-month technical extension to Article 50.
Some senior Tories believe that Johnson could present this outcome to the public as the prime minister successfully “getting Brexit done” by October 31, with a deal agreed in principle and the backstop removed. A technical extension would be used to negotiate the final details and the UK would formally leave at a later date.
The downside to this would be that the UK will not have legally left the EU on October 31, contrary to the public position of Johnson and Cummings.
In this scenario, a general election could be delayed until 2020, also contrary to Johnson and Cummings’ original plan. There are rising fears among senior ministers that the Conservatives would be squeezed by Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party in a pre-Brexit election.