Members of British parliament will vote on a draft Brexit agreement with the European Union on December 11, officials have announced, as Prime Minister Theresa May navigates the deal despite a slim working majority.
The vote will take place after five days of parliamentary debate, a letter published by Chief Whip Julian Smith said on Monday.
It will decide the future of Britain’s departure from the EU, or Brexit, which it is officially set to take place on March 29, 2019.
If British legislators back the plan devised by May’s government, then an EU Withdrawal Agreement bill will be introduced in parliament. It must be ratified by the members before it can proceed to a European Parliament vote before receiving EU Council approval.
However, if parliament rejects May’s plan, the government will have 21 days to decide its next move.
In that case, a period of grave uncertainty would ensue, with possible scenarios including the United Kingdom leaving the EU without a deal, renegotiating the existing proposal, holding a general election, or even staging a second referendum on EU membership.
Both May and EU leaders have described the current agreement as the “best” and the “only possible” deal. On Sunday, EU leaders formally agreed to it at a summit in Brussels.
During the summit, EU leaders urged Britons to back May’s package.
But in the UK, the agreement has received criticism from both supporters of Brexit as well as those who want the UK to remain part of the EU.
For those in favour of a definitive Brexit, the deal fails to deliver on a clean break with the European project.
For those in favour of Britain staying in the EU, the agreement is a watered down, inadequate version of the country’s existing membership arrangement with access to its customs union and single market.
In parliament on Monday, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain’s main opposition Labour Party, called the withdrawal deal and accompanying political declaration on future relations “an act of national self-harm”.
“For the good of the nation, the House has very little choice but to reject this deal,” he said.
More disconcerting for May is a growing and vocal chorus of resentment from her own Conservative Party, with MP Mark Francois saying her deal was “as dead as a Dodo”.
May has defended the terms of the agreement, saying the deal “unlocks a bright future for the UK” and claws back control of “borders … money … [and] laws” from Brussels.
“No one knows what would happen if this deal didn’t pass,” May told the House of Commons.
One of the big issues is the future of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The deal reached allows for a “backstop” to be set up in order to prevent a hard border being established if no trade deal is sorted out during the so-called “post-Brexit transitional period” between March 29, 2019, and December 31, 2020.
Under the terms of the agreement, the whole of the UK will remain in a customs union with the EU “unless and until” the bloc agrees there is no prospect of a return to a hard border.