Theresa May has just 48 hours to get a Brexit deal, reports declare today amid a new warning she could be toppled. Talks ramped up this morning in Brussels and the Prime Minister will summon her Cabinet tomorrow to discuss new plans. No Deal Brexit plans costing billions of pounds have to start being enacted within days, otherwise they won’t be ready by exit day on March 29.
Yet talks are still deadlocked over a “backstop” – backup plan – to extend EU customs rules across the UK if there’s no deal to keep the Irish border open.
Multiple reports today suggested Theresa May is trying to get a deal agreed on her own side within 48 hours. Otherwise there will not be enough time to arrange a special November summit with the other 27 EU leaders.
A government source told Sky News: “Realistically at some stage on Wednesday is as late as it can go”.
Even if she does get a deal through the Cabinet and the EU, Mrs May is being warned it won’t pass the third hurdle – the UK Parliament.
MPs will be given a vote on the deal and Labour, the DUP, Tory Remainers and Tory Brexiteers have united against it.
No Deal preparations have to begin no matter what, because otherwise they won’t be ready on time.
The UK was hoping for a final Brexit summit to seal not just a deal, but a “political declaration” on future trade. However, this looked off the cards as talks stalled over the Northern Irish border.
13-14 December 2018:
The next scheduled European Council summit. This is the last chance saloon to get a deal. Already it’s much later than was ideal. Otherwise there won’t be time to sign it off before Brexit Day.
After a deal is reached:
MPs hold a vote on any deal in Parliament. This is danger moment two for Theresa May, who will likely face a Tory leadership challenge if she loses the vote. She claims the UK will leave with No Deal anyway if she loses. But Labour say she should be forced back to the negotiating table; call a general election; or even trigger a second EU referendum.
29 March 2019:
Brexit Day. If there’s a deal, this will be a total anticlimax because a transition will be in place. If there’s No Deal, planes could be grounded, ports jammed up and customs checks thrown into chaos at 11pm.
31 December 2020:
If there’s a deal, this is when the transition period – which continues pretty much all the EU rules we have now – is supposed to end. But talk has been floated of extending this by a few months.
After December 2020:
If there’s still no deal, under current plans a “backstop” would kick in. This could keep the UK tied to EU customs rules, until a proper agreement is reached, in exchange for keeping the Northern Ireland border open.
John Whittingdale, the former Culture Secretary, warned Theresa May will have to quit if the deal fails at that stage.
“I think if the Prime Minister’s Brexit plan doesn’t get through Parliament I think it’s quite difficult to see how the Prime Minister can continue because she has staked her credibility,” the Tory MP told the BBC’s Westminster Hour.
“It’s very hard for her to turn round and say ‘OK, well my plan’s been torn up by Parliament, I’ll go away and think of another one.’”
Talks are stuck over the “backstop” to continue EU customs rules in the UK.
Brexiteers say this would leave the UK shackled to Brussels with no power or say in its affairs.
Mrs May first wanted to set an end date on the backstop – but the EU said that wasn’t acceptable.
Then she wanted a “mechanism” letting the UK quit no matter what – but EU sources rejected that too.
A worried UK official told the Financial Times: “They are pushing and pushing on everything.”
Ministers from the other 27 EU nations were being briefed on developments this morning by chief negotiator Michel Barnier.
Arriving for the mini-summit in Brussels, French Europe minister Nathalie Loiseau said: “The ball is in the British court. It is a question of a British political decision.”
Ms Loiseau added: “I have no crystal ball unfortunately. We are determined, we are committed to find a good deal. We know that it is better than a no-deal.”
She made clear that a temporary customs union giving the UK unilateral powers to bring arrangements to an end was not acceptable.
“If you have any sort of temporary arrangement, this needs to be a bilateral decision from the EU27 and the UK at the same time, and we have to know at that moment what sort of solution there is for the Irish border,” she said.
Germany’s Europe minister Michael Roth said: “A customs union is an option but we must be careful that it doesn’t lead to unfair relations between the EU27 and the UK, particularly in environmental, workplace and social standards.
“It must be a genuine backstop.”
Belgian foreign minister Didier Reynders said: “For this moment it’s difficult to make real progress, but before Christmas I’m hoping it will be possible.”
Asked if a special Brexit summit could be staged in November, Mr Reynders said: “We are ready to do that but to organise a summit you need to have some progress.
“If we are in the same situation as 10 days ago it is a nonsense to organise it this month. It will be maybe the case in December. We have seen some movement but it seems to be not enough.”