The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier warned British lawmakers Tuesday against the “dangerous illusion” that they could benefit from a transition period even without a proper divorce deal.
As British MPs prepared to vote on the deal struck by Prime Minister Theresa May, Barnier made a dramatic late intervention on Twitter to stress that Brussels would not agree to interim arrangements to cushion the blow of a no-deal Brexit.
“Let me be clear: the only legal basis for a transition is the WA. No withdrawal agreement means no transition.”
May’s deal faces a likely defeat, raising the danger of Britain severing ties with its biggest trade partner on March 29 without a deal and being plunged into economic chaos.
Transitional arrangements to wind down Britain’s involvement with the EU form part of the agreement — but need parliament’s approval to take effect.
Some Brexit-supporting MPs have argued that contingency measures announced by the EU that would come into effect in the event of no deal would effectively operate as a mini transition deal — a notion strongly rejected by Brussels officials.
May’s Brexit deal faced a likely defeat in an historic parliamentary vote Tuesday that risked pitching Britain into the unknown just 17 days before its scheduled split from the European Union.
Parliament’s failure to back the divorce terms could unleash economic chaos: It raises the danger of Britain severing ties with its biggest trade partner on March 29 without a deal after 46 years of EU membership.
A hoarse-sounding May warned lawmakers in a last attempt to sway them that “Brexit could be lost” if they voted against her and said a no-deal Brexit would deliver a “significant economic shock”.
May had dashed off to Strasbourg on Monday to wrest concessions from EU leaders in a last-gasp bid to win parliament’s blessing in one of its most consequential votes in generations.
The British leader announced that she had secured the “legally binding changes” to the vexing issue of the Irish border that lawmakers had long sought.
What is expected to happen?
May’s deal is not expected to win enough support on Tuesday.
If her deal is rejected, there will be two more votes this week to give MPs the final say on ruling out a no-deal scenario. If that is passed another vote will take place to decide on delaying Brexit.
“May has two strategies: Threaten no Brexit, and threaten no deal,” said Benjamin Martill, a Dahrendorf Forum researcher at the London School of Economics who studies UK-EU relations. “Threatening no deal helps with leverage with the EU, but it hasn’t really achieved much.”
Eurosceptics might be persuaded to vote for May’s deal if they believe that Brexit may be cancelled altogether.
“What you’ve seen recently is much more movement towards May credibly threatening no Brexit, which is reinforced by the Labour party now endorsing, under certain conditions, a second referendum.”
Is Brexit going to be delayed?
A Brexit delay appears to be a likely scenario.
This could be the result of MPs voting for an extension, or, if parliament does not get the opportunity to vote for an extension, May could still ask for a short technical delay to allow the UK to pass the necessary legislation to leave the EU.
Regardless of the outcome this week, the EU would have to sign off the final agreement at the next EU summit, scheduled for March 21-22.
If MPs vote for an extension of Article 50, the part of the Treaty on European Union that allows member states to withdraw from the bloc, it is unclear whether this will be a long or a short one.
May wants to avoid a long extension beyond the end of June. EU elections are scheduled for May 23-26 and the new parliament has its first sitting at the beginning of July.
Will there be a second referendum?
Participating would put the UK government at odds with Brexiters. However British citizens would have the right to have a say on who represents them at the EU Parliament while the UK is still part of the EU.
All EU member states have to agree to an extension, and some EU leaders have expressed concern that it needs to have a specific purpose.
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn announced two weeks ago that he would back a second referendum, in what was seen as a major shift in party policy.
That said, Labour looks set to abstain from putting forward an amendment in that direction this week, but individual MPs may decide to do so.
With a number of Labour MPs against a second vote, it remains unclear whether it would find a majority in parliament.
There are reports May is under pressure to quit. Is she going to survive?
There has been speculation that the beleaguered prime minister may be forced to resign.
May has already survived a leadership challenge from within the Conservative party, which means there can’t be another one before December.
However, “parliament could choose to hold another vote of no confidence in her government, which they did after the last meaningful vote,” said Maddy Thimont Jack, a researcher at the Institute for Government in London.
“It might be that at this stage some Conservatives will chose to vote against the government.”