As the countdown continues to the scheduled date of Brexit on March 29, here is what has been happening over the past week.
Days to go
What happened this week?
Theresa May returned to Brussels on a mission to persuade EU leaders they must accept changes to the Withdrawal Agreement to have any hope of getting it through the House of Commons. Before her visit, the Prime Minister sought to reassure Northern Ireland she will protect its interests with a high-profile speech in Belfast and talks with politicians and businesses. But the trip was overshadowed by European Council president Donald Tusk’s remark that there was “a special place in hell” for Brexiteers without a plan and his comment as talks concluded that there was “still no breakthrough in sight”.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn made an offer to back the PM’s Brexit plan if she accepted five demands, including a customs union, close links with the single market and ongoing alignment with EU workplace and environmental protections.
What happens next?
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay will hold talks with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier on Monday, as each side’s teams of officials re-engage in the search for a breakthrough. If no deal has been reached by Wednesday – as seems overwhelmingly likely – Mrs May will address MPs on progress made and table a “neutral motion” for debate the following day. This motion is expected to attract a swathe of amendments on anything from the removal of the controversial Irish backstop to delaying Brexit day beyond March 29 or holding a fresh public vote.
Valentine’s Day will see a succession of votes which will not be binding on the Government but will hold significant political weight as an indication of what the House of Commons will support. However, it is not expected to be the final opportunity for critics of the Brexit deal to rebel or resign, as the PM is promising another “meaningful vote” in the coming weeks.
The Irish Taoiseach won firm commitments from EU leaders that they will not leave the Republic to stand alone, with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker assuring him: “The Irish border is the European border.” Mr Juncker showed Mr Varadkar a huge card sent by an Irish woman to thank him for his support. But the woman’s message was awkward for the Taoiseach as it included the claim that “Britain does not care about peace in Northern Ireland”.
Supporters of a second referendum.
Hopes that Mr Corbyn would throw Labour’s weight behind the campaign for a People’s Vote appeared to recede as he wrote to Mrs May offering his party’s help to secure a Brexit deal.
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer insisted the move did not take the option of a referendum off the table, but Chuka Umunna said that EU-backing voters would feel they had been “sold down the river” and former leadership contender Owen Smith said he and others would be considering their future in the party.
Quote of the week
“I’ve been wondering what that special place in hell looks like for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely.” European Council president Donald Tusk.
Tweet of the week
“Well, I doubt Lucifer would welcome them, as after what they did to Britain, they would even manage to divide hell.” European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt’s response to Mr Tusk.
Well, I doubt Lucifer would welcome them, as after what they did to Britain, they would even manage to divide hell 🙂 https://t.co/AS367egjZP
— Guy Verhofstadt (@guyverhofstadt) February 6, 2019
Word of the week
It was the place where Mr Tusk wanted to consign Brexiteers with no plans, and the place where many of his critics thought he should be sent for poisoning the atmosphere ahead of Mrs May’s visit. Unguarded comments to Mr Varadkar, caught by a microphone moments before he spoke, made clear the Council chief was all too aware that he would stir up a hornets’ nest in the UK.
One Twitter wag appeared to be thinking of Brexit-backing pub chain boss Tim Martin when he responded to Tusk’s query about where the “special place in hell” was located with the single word: “Wetherspoon’s”.