EU summit preview: Brexit deal closing in

Theresa May dancing

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May performs a few dance moves as she arrives to address the delegates on the third day of the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, Britain, 03 October 2018. [EPA-EFE/Neil Hall]

British Prime Minister Theresa May briefed her inner Cabinet on Thursday evening (11 October) that a historic Brexit deal was close, the Financial Times reported.

Cabinet ministers briefed on the Brexit talks said the issue of the Irish backstop was close to being settled, the FT said.

The paper quoted an official close to the Brexit talks as saying May never brings the Cabinet together to tell them recent developments and so “it feels to me like the deal is practically done.”

The FT said two Eurosceptic Cabinet ministers, Andrea Leadsom, leader of the Commons, and Esther McVey, work and pensions secretary, are opposed to the plan and could potentially quit.

“They are going to talk a lot over the weekend and consider what they will live with and what they will walk over,” the FT quoted one official close to Eurosceptic Cabinet ministers as saying of Leadsom and McVey.

On the other hand, May is expecting support from her inner Cabinet, including two prominent Brexiters : environment secretary Michael Gove and Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, the FT said.

Back me or risk collapse of Brexit, May warns warring Tories

Theresa May warned her warring Conservative party on Wednesday (3 October) that Brexit may never come to fruition if they do not back her Chequers plan, as she spoke at the party’s annual conference in Birmingham.

When is the true deadline?

Next week’s EU summit has been billed as a last chance to negotiate an orderly Brexit, but is the cliff edge really that close? When is the true deadline?

Officials from both London and Brussels say the draft of a Brexit deal must be reached by the summit dinner on October 17 – or at the very most by mid November.

This is supposed to give Prime Minister Theresa May time to get a text approved by the British parliament in time for the March 29 divorce deadline.

But some European officials hint privately that the dates are not immoveable and all the recent urgency unnecessary. Can EU leaders kick the can down the road?

Barrier – Brexit deal may be 'within reach' next week

European Union Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said on Wednesday an agreement with Britain could be “within reach” next week, calling for decisive progress in the talks in time for a summit of all 28 EU leaders.

Brussels deadline

For Europe, the March deadline is purely technical, based on a never-used Article 50 process that dictates the timeline of a divorce from the EU.

Under Article 50 of the EU treaties, the two sides have two years to negotiate a divorce agreement.

Britain launched that process on March 29, 2017, so – as far as European officials are concerned – the deadline is that same date two years later.

But Britain’s withdrawal deal will require ratification by the European Parliament.

MEPs, led by their Brexit coordinator liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt, will make a lot of noise.

But few believe parliament will slow down or even block a landmark deal forged in fire by the 28 EU leaders.

In fact, insiders say the European Parliament could vote immediately before the March 30 cliff edge.

“Parliament could vote on a withdrawal agreement up until about March 25 or 26, assuming that the March 29 Brexit date holds,” a parliamentary source said.

“It would certainly not be desirable for the decision to be taken so tight up to the deadline, but … it is technically possible,” the source added.

The last session of the European Parliament is on April 18 before it breaks up for EU elections in late May.

So – even if Brexit negotiations veer off course – the Article 50 deadline can not be extended far.

Tusk slams UK slurs on EU, urges ‘Canada +++’ Brexit deal

European Council President Donald Tusk sharply criticised what he called “emotional” and “insulting” statements about the EU by British ministers and urged London on Thursday 94 October) to accept an offer of very close post-Brexit ties.

London deadline

British officials chafe at any casual attitude to the deadline.

“People need to realise that this vote may be the most important of our lifetime. That it’s just not going to be fudged and rushed through,” one said.

Indeed, British negotiators say Brexit talks with EU officials can continue into mid-November and no further.

That is because, if May is to avoid a no-deal catastrophe, she will need to provide as much time as possible for lawmakers to debate and approve the divorce.

A Brexit deal in October already leaves the “extremely compressed,” wrote the Institute for Government, a Britain think tank.

If negotiations slip behind, passing the legislation in time will be a “heroic” task, it warned.

The EU withdrawal will be a landmark vote for Britain and experts cite previous major EU treaties passed by the UK parliament as a benchmark for the time needed.

The EU treaties of Rome and Maastricht each took around 40 sitting days to go through both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

Before Brexit day there are about 70 sitting days between a theoretical deal mid-November, and around 50 from the already scheduled EU summit in December.

Deal, no deal, or no Brexit?

Theresa May’s attempts to negotiate a ‘soft Brexit’ are not backed by a parliamentary majority. Nor are the plans of the hard Brexiters. That could result in a new referendum, which could lead to the UK staying in, argues Hugo Dixon.

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