- The UK will have to decide between no-deal and a long delay to Brexit this week, with the delay looking more likely.
- Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday is set to head to Brussels, where European Union leaders will consider her request to stay in the bloc until June 30.
- The 27 other EU members are likely to offer May an extension but demand that she explain how she plans to negotiate the next steps of the withdrawal.
- May could suffer senior cabinet resignations and an attempted power grab.
- Here’s what is likely to happen this week.
LONDON – Prime Minister Theresa May faces her most important week in Brexit yet, with just four days until Britain is set to leave the European Union and the prospect of a lengthy extension to the Article 50 process looming.
The UK is scheduled to leave the EU at one hour before midnight on Friday, and if nothing changes, the UK will leave then without a deal. May, however, appears to have taken the prospect of a no-deal outcome off the table: In a video released Sunday, she repeated her belief that the UK’s choice was between “leaving the European Union with a deal or not leaving at all.”
The prime minister has instead requested an extension to Brexit, but EU leaders have insisted that May needs to present them with a workable plan for her next steps – something that could be derailed by apparently unsuccessful compromise talks with the opposition Labour Party.
And this is all happening amid growing anger in the Conservative Party about May’s leadership, with senior rivals already beginning their campaigns to replace her.
Here’s how Business Insider expects the week to play out.
1. The Cooper Bill
A bill from Labour MP Yvette Cooper to prevent a no-deal Brexit is expected to pass through the House of Lords and into law Monday night. An amendment tabled by the senior lawyer Lord Pannick – which would force May to seek an Article 50 extension to avoid a no-deal Brexit – is looking popular and would hand May the power to seek an extension for any length of her choosing, so long as the new exit day is after May 22.
There had been concern in Downing Street that, without such an amendment, May would have to return to the Commons after EU leaders offered her an extension to secure the House’s approval, which would have made this week’s narrow timetable even tighter and could make a no-deal Brexit more likely.
On Monday, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, is set to fly to Dublin for emergency talks with Irish Premier Leo Varadkar, with one eye on Friday’s exit day and huge concerns lingering over its impact on the Ireland-Northern Ireland border.
2. May makes her offer to Corbyn
Brexit talks between May and the opposition Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, broke down at the end of last week after May’s opponents walked out of talks claiming that she had failed to make any offers of compromise. The suspicion in Labour circles is that the prime minister was using the talks as a show both to convince the EU that she had a plan for an extension to Brexit and as a last-ditch attempt to bounce Conservative MPs into backing her existing deal.
The straight-to-camera video the prime minister released over the weekend, however, has led to speculation that she could be about to make a big offer to Corbyn – specifically on remaining in Europe’s customs union. It remains to be seen whether she will. Doing so would cause a major split in her party and would leave most Labour MPs still deeply dissatisfied with the idea of backing the deal. For this reason, any prospective cross-party deal is unlikely to be agreed to in time for this week’s deadline for leaving the EU.
3. Parliament votes on delaying Brexit
Assuming the Cooper Bill is passed, it would receive royal assent on Monday night and May would need to return to the Commons on Tuesday with a motion pledging to request an Article 50 extension. She already requested an Article 50 extension in a letter to the EU on Friday, but supporters of the bill say it ensured she did so by law. MPs will be able to amend the motion, and backbenchers are likely to propose plans for leaving at various different points. Ultimately, though, the length of the extension will be up to the EU.
4. May heads to Brussels
EU leaders on Wednesday will consider May’s request to delay Brexit until June 30. All 27 member states will need to approve any plan before it is signed off. The European Council’s president, Donald Tusk, has already indicated he is in favour of a longer, flexible extension of up to a year that allows the UK to drop out at any point during that period after a deal has been ratified.
But May will have a hard time in Brussels, with many member states becoming increasingly frustrated with the UK’s intransigence and some wanting to attach tough conditions to any delay. French President Emmanuel Macron has threatened to veto an extension, and The Guardian reported on Sunday that France, Spain, and Belgium considered themselves prepared for a no-deal Brexit.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is said to be more sympathetic to an extension, and Ireland, which stands to lose the most in a no-deal Brexit, remains keen to ensure that such an outcome is avoided.
May is under heavy pressure to present a workable plan for the way forward to EU leaders on Wednesday night.
5. Time runs out
Under the terms of the original Cooper Bill, MPs would need to vote on any extension the EU offers May that differs from the one approved by amendments on Tuesday.
That would make the timetable to avoid a no-deal Brexit on Friday eye-wateringly tight.
If Lord Pannick’s amendment to the Cooper Bill is accepted – which is likely – MPs wouldn’t be offered a vote. May would instead have the flexibility to agree on a different date specified by Parliament as long as the new date is not before May 22. That means the prime minister could accept or reject the terms of any extension the EU offers.
“Over the last few days people have been asking me what on Earth’s happening with Brexit,” May said in the video released by Downing Street on Sunday.
By the end of this week, she will be able to offer an answer: Either a no-deal Brexit or a lengthy delay that could end up with Britain not leaving at all.
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