Brexit: A guide to the crucial week ahead

What we can expect as the historic five-day debate on the UK’s withdrawal deal begins

Anti-Brexit campaigners protest outside the House of Commons in London, Britain. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

Anti-Brexit campaigners protest outside the House of Commons in London, Britain. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

 

On Tuesday, the historic five-day debate on the treaty intended to govern the UK’s withdrawal from the EU begins in the House of Commons, with a vote on whether to ratify the deal scheduled to take place there a week later, on Tuesday, December 11th.

However, even before that debate begins, British prime minister Theresa May’s government is facing a challenge in the Commons over the release on Monday of a summary of the attorney general’s legal advice to the British government on the agreement with the EU.

Last month MPs voted to have the advice released in full, but the government has instead only published a summary of the advice from attorney general Geoffrey Cox.

Following the publication of the legal document on Monday, Mr Cox answered MPs’ questions on it and defended the decision not to release the full advice.

Britain’s opposition Labour Party has said that if the advice is not published in full, it will begin court proceedings to find the government in contempt of parliament.

Ms May’s ministers expect a furious assault on her withdrawal deal with the EU when the debate proper begins on Tuesday in the House of Commons.

But the government will point to the lack of an alternative from her opponents, warning that voting down the deal brings the prospect of a second Brexit referendum closer.

Indeed, on Monday environment secretary Michael Gove, one of the cabinet’s leading Brexiteers, said that there may now be a Commons majority for a second referendum.

Article 50

Also on Tuesday, an advocate general of the European Court of Justice is due to publish his non-binding opinion on whether the UK can unilaterally revoke article 50.

Triggered by the British government on March 29th, 2017, article 50 governs the two-year negotiating period for countries leaving the EU.

On the same day, EU finance ministers will meet in Brussels, where the European Commission’s preparations for a no-deal Brexit are intensifying, for a series of seminars and meetings on how to prepare for the possibility of the UK crashing out of the union next March without a deal.

Ms May will be in the Commons on Wednesday for prime minister’s questions, as the debate on the withdrawal treaty continues for the rest of the week.

By the end of the week, Ms May will have to show some progress in winning over Conservative MPs to support her deal. Last week, a whip count by the Guardian estimated that almost 100 Conservative MPs could vote against the withdrawal treaty, consigning Ms May to a heavy defeat from which she could find it difficult to recover.

On Sunday, the prime minister is due to take on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in a live televised debate on the deal, just two days before the House of Commons vote.

On the day of the vote itself, MPs are likely also to be asked to vote on a number of amendments to the government motion – any one of which could potentially derail the treaty’s ratification.

A House of Commons briefing paper makes clear that if MPs voted to approve the deal but subjected it to certain amendments, this would not fulfil the legal requirement for ratification.

The speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, has said he will accept up to six amendments.

Labour has said it will table a no-confidence motion in Ms May to force a general election if MPs reject her deal. If that fails, the party has said it would then seek support in the Commons for another referendum.

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