MPs could sit between Christmas and new year to pass Brexit deal

This article is more than 1 month old

EU hoping for ratification by 28 December but if talks drag on deal may be ‘provisionally applied’

Pro-EU campaigners outside Westminster on Monday
Pro-EU campaigners outside Westminster on Monday. Downing Street has confirmed MPs will have a vote if a deal is reached. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA
Pro-EU campaigners outside Westminster on Monday. Downing Street has confirmed MPs will have a vote if a deal is reached. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA
Chief political correspondent

Last modified on Mon 14 Dec 2020 23.37 EST

MPs may need to sit in parliament between Christmas and new year to pass any Brexit deal in order to meet the deadline for the end of the transition period on 31 December.

The EU is hoping talks will be concluded to allow ratification by the European parliament on 28 December. If talks go on longer, it is possible for any deal to be “provisionally applied” to avoid a chasm of no deal until the agreement is ratified, to allow time for MEPs to scrutinise and pass the deal early in 2021. Otherwise contingency measures could be arranged to bridge the gap.

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has told ambassadors and MEPs in Brussels that a post-Brexit trade and security deal could be sealed as early as this week after Boris Johnson made a key concession over the weekend on regulatory standards.

However, MEPs are likely to be far from happy at the lack of time for scrutiny and for translation of the deal. It will need to be accepted by all EU member states and the commission has accepted there will need to be a “very flexible, fast process”.

Timeline

From Brefusal to Brexit: a history of Britain in the EU

Show
Brefusal

The French president, Charles de Gaulle, vetoes Britain’s entry to EEC, accusing the UK of a “deep-seated hostility” towards the European project.

Brentry

With Sir Edward Heath having signed the accession treaty the previous year, the UK enters the EEC in an official ceremony complete with a torch-lit rally, dickie-bowed officials and a procession of political leaders, including former prime ministers Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home.

Referendum

The UK decides to stay in the common market after 67% voted "yes". Margaret Thatcher, later to be leader of the Conservative party, campaigned to remain.

'Give us our money back'

Margaret Thatcher negotiated what became known as the UK rebate with other EU members after the "iron lady" marched into the former French royal palace at Fontainebleau to demand “our own money back” claiming for every £2 contributed we get only £1 back” despite being one of the “three poorer” members of the community.

It was a move that sowed the seeds of Tory Euroscepticism that was to later cause the Brexit schism in the party. 

The Bruges speech

Thatcher served notice on the EU community in a defining moment in EU politics in which she questioned the expansionist plans of Jacques Delors, who had remarked that 80% of all decisions on economic and social policy would be made by the European Community within 10 years with a European government in “embryo”. That was a bridge too far for Thatcher.

The cold war ends

Collapse of Berlin wall and fall of communism in eastern Europe, which would later lead to expansion of EU.

'No, no, no'

Divisions between the UK and the EU deepened with Thatcher telling the Commons in an infamous speech it was ‘no, no, no’ to what she saw as Delors’ continued power grab. Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper ratchets up its opposition to Europe with a two-fingered “Up yours Delors” front page.

Black Wednesday

A collapse in the pound forced prime minister John Major and the then chancellor Norman Lamont to pull the UK out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism.

The single market

On 1 January, customs checks and duties were removed across the bloc. Thatcher hailed the vision of “a single market without barriers – visible or invisible – giving you direct and unhindered access to the purchasing power of over 300 million of the world’s wealthiest and most prosperous people".

Maastricht treaty

Tory rebels vote against the treaty that paved the way for the creation of the European Union. John Major won the vote the following day in a pyrrhic victory. 

Repairing the relationship

Tony Blair patches up the relationship. Signs up to social charter and workers' rights.

Ukip

Nigel Farage elected an MEP and immediately goes on the offensive in Brussels. “Our interests are best served by not being a member of this club,” he said in his maiden speech. “The level playing field is about as level as the decks of the Titanic after it hit an iceberg.”

The euro

Chancellor Gordon Brown decides the UK will not join the euro.

EU enlarges to to include eight countries of the former eastern bloc including Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

EU expands again, allowing Romania and Bulgaria into the club.

Migrant crisis

Anti-immigration hysteria seems to take hold with references to “cockroches” by Katie Hopkins in the Sun and tabloid headlines such as “How many more can we take?” and “Calais crisis: send in the dogs”.

David Cameron returns from Brussels with an EU reform package - but it isn't enough to appease the Eurosceptic wing of his own party

Brexit referendum

The UK votes to leave the European Union, triggering David Cameron's resignation and paving the way for Theresa May to become prime minister

Britain leaves the EU

After years of parliamentary impasse during Theresa May's attempt to get a deal agreed, the UK leaves the EU.

Was this helpful?

If a deal is clinched this week, Downing Street hopes to hold a vote early next week before the Christmas break, the date of which has not been set. However, there are still difficult negotiations take place around fishing rights, which EU sources have said could drag on longer.

Though time is extremely short, parliament can work quickly to pass legislation if a deal is done. Downing Street has confirmed MPs will have a vote if a deal is reached.

“If a deal is agreed, it will require legislation to come into force,” a No 10 spokesman said. “MPs will therefore of course get a vote on any deal before this legislation receives royal assent and becomes law.”

Some Conservative MPs – even hardline Brexiters – would be likely to view a very short extension pragmatically to allow time to ratify a deal. The former cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith, who has been critical of any concessions to the EU on level playing field negotiations, said: “If push comes to shove, they can give themselves a bye post-31 December of a month while the sides sort out their legislation, as long as these issues are sorted satisfactorily.”

Labour has all but confirmed that its MPs will be whipped in favour of backing a deal. Speaking to LBC on Monday, Keir Starmer said the party was clear that a deal was in the national interest if the alternative was no deal. “We’ll look at a deal if they get it,” the Labour leader said.

The decision by Labour to back a deal – even if a substantial number of MPs abstain – will give the prime minister some room for manoeuvre in negotiations knowing he will have no issues in parliament passing the deal.

If there is no deal then MPs will not get any automatic right to vote on the decision to leave without trading terms on 31 December.

A number of Conservative MPs have had conversations in recent days about whether any parliamentary steps could be taken to prevent no deal – after MPs mounted audacious bids in parliament last year to pass legislation to force extensions, enabled by some flexibility from the Speaker at the time, John Bercow.

However, with Johnson’s substantially increased majority and a new Commons Speaker in place, it is unlikely there are any parliamentary moves that could stop a no-deal Brexit.