Brexit: UK parliament launches debate on Theresa May deal

Britain is entering the endgame over its planned departure from the European Union. Prime Minister Theresa May faces an uphill task as she tries to convince enough lawmakers to back her draft Brexit deal.

British lawmakers kick off five days of debate on Tuesday on a draft UK-EU agreement on Britain's exit from the European Union ahead of a crucial final vote on the deal on December 11.

"The British people want us to get on with a deal that honors the referendum and allows us to come together again as a country, whichever way we voted," British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to tell the Parliament.

"This is the deal that delivers for the British people."

May's gamble

But it is unclear whether May, who leads a minority Conservative Party government, can win enough votes for the deal to pass.

Politics

June 2016: 'The will of the British people'

After a shrill referendum campaign, nearly 52 percent of British voters opted to leave the EU on June 24. Polls had shown a close race before the vote with a slight lead for those favoring remaining in the EU. Conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron, who had campaigned for Britain to stay, acknowledged the 'will of the British people' and resigned the following morning.

Politics

July 2016: 'Brexit means Brexit'

Former Home Secretary Theresa May replaced David Cameron as prime minister on July 11 and promised the country that "Brexit means Brexit." May had quietly supported the remain campaign before the referendum. She did not initially say when her government would trigger Article 50 of the EU treaty to start the two-year talks leading to Britain's formal exit.

Politics

March 2017: 'We already miss you'

May eventually signed a diplomatic letter over six months later on March 29, 2017 to trigger Article 50. Hours later, Britain's ambassador to the EU, Tim Barrow, handed the note to European Council President Donald Tusk. Britain's exit was officially set for March 29, 2019. Tusk ended his brief statement on the decision with: "We already miss you. Thank you and goodbye."

Politics

June 2017: And they're off!

British Brexit Secretary David Davis and the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, kicked off talks in Brussels on June 19. The first round ended with Britain reluctantly agreeing to follow the EU's timeline for the rest of the negotiations. The timeline split talks into two phases. The first settles the terms of Britain's exit and the second the terms of the EU-UK relationship post-Brexit.

Politics

July-October 2017: Money, rights, and Ireland

The second round of talks in mid-July began with an unflattering photo of a seemingly unprepared British team. It and subsequent rounds ended with little progress on three phase one issues: How much Britain still needed to pay into the EU budget after it leaves, the post-Brexit rights of EU and British citizens, and whether Britain could keep an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Politics

November 2017: May pays out?

Progress appeared to have been made after round six in early November with Britain reportedly agreeing to pay up to £50 billion (€57 billion/$68 billion) for the "divorce bill." May had earlier said she was only willing to pay €20 billion, while the EU had calculated some €60 billion euros. Reports of Britain's concession sparked outrage among pro-Brexit politicians and media outlets.

Politics

December 2017: Go-ahead for phase two

Leaders of the remaining 27 EU members formally agreed that "sufficient progress" had been made to move on to phase 2 issues: the post-Brexit transition period and the future UK-EU trading relationship. While May expressed her delight at the decision, European Council President Tusk ominously warned that the second stage of talks would be "dramatically difficult."

Politics

July 2018: Boris and David resign

British ministers appeared to back a Brexit plan at May's Chequers residence on July 6. The proposal would have kept Britain in a "combined customs territory" with the EU and signed up to a "common rulebook" on all goods. That went too far for British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson and Brexit Secretary Davis. They resigned a few days later. May replaced them with Jeremy Hunt and Dominic Raab.

Politics

September 2018: No cherries for Britain

The Chequers proposal did not go down well either with EU leaders, who told her at a summit in Salzburg in late September that it was unacceptable. EU Council President Tusk trolled May on Instagram, where he captioned a picture of himself and May looking at cakes with the line: "A piece of cake perhaps? Sorry, no cherries." The gag echoed previous EU accusations of British cherry-picking.

Politics

November 2018: Breakthrough in Brussels

EU leaders endorsed a 585-page draft divorce deal and political declaration on post-Brexit ties in late November. The draft was widely condemned by pro- and anti-Brexit lawmakers in the British Parliament only weeks earlier. Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab resigned along with several other ministers, and dozens of Conservative Party members tried to trigger a no-confidence vote in May.

Politics

December 2018: May gets cold feet

Despite unrelenting opposition toward the draft deal, May scheduled a parliamentary vote on it for December 11. But she called it off on December 10, admitting to lawmakers that she would have lost the vote "by a significant margin." The next day, she met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to seek reassurances that would, she hoped, be enough to convince skeptical lawmakers to back the deal.

Opposition to the draft agreement, which would keep Britain closely tied to the bloc after it leaves on March 29, 2019, has intensified since May presented it to lawmakers in mid-November.

Anti-EU hardliners within her own party say it keeps Britain too close to the EU and are planning to vote against it. Pro-EU lawmakers across the political spectrum say the deal is worse than remaining in the bloc.

Opposition parties, including Labour, the second largest party, say they will vote against the deal. That means May will likely need a significant number of Labour rebels and a majority of Conservative lawmakers to vote in favor of the deal.

Specter of a chaotic exit

May could call for a second vote on the deal if she loses in the first round. Alternatively, the country could hold snap elections or a fresh referendum on whether to remain in the bloc. May could also face fresh calls to resign if the deal is rejected.

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May's Brexit Appeal

EU leaders have repeatedly warned that they are not open to reopening talks.

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An outright rejection could also lead to Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal. The British government and the Bank of England warned last week that any "no-deal" exit would spell chaos for the British economy and its trade with other EU countries.

Legal controversy

The Parliament is also set to debate on Tuesday whether the government failed to adequately inform lawmakers about a legal opinion on the draft deal. 

The government had asked Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, its chief legal advisor and a pro-Brexit Conservative lawmaker, for his legal appraisal on the terms of the deal.

Although ministers agreed to publish the opinion, opposition members of parliament complained that the government had only given them a shortened version of the original.

amp/rt (dpa, AP, Reuters)

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