Brexit: The past seven days

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: 35

What happened this week?

Theresa May held more talks with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on Wednesday and insisted that progress had been made.

However, Mr Juncker had a more downbeat assessment of the situation when he stated the next day that he was “not very optimistic” that a no-deal Brexit could be avoided.

Mr Juncker told the European Economic and Social Committee in Brussels on Thursday that he was “recovering” from his talks with the Prime Minister the previous evening, and had “Brexit fatigue”.

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox held talks with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier on the Northern Ireland backstop issue.

And Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also met Mr Barnier to discuss Brexit.

In Westminster, politics was dominated by eight Labour MPs and three Tory ones quitting their parties to form a pro-Europe bloc called The Independent Group (TIG).

Prime Minister Theresa May (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Prime Minister Theresa May (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

What happens next?

Mrs May is attending a two-day EU-League of Arab States summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, from Sunday and is expected to have Brexit-related meetings with other European leaders on the fringes of the gathering.

The Brexit Secretary and Attorney General will continue discussions early next week with Mr Barnier on issues regarding the backstop.

As the PM attempts to secure a Withdrawal Agreement acceptable to Parliament, Wednesday is set to see a series of crunch Commons votes on Brexit.

Backbench amendments to a Government motion are expected to call for the no-deal EU withdrawal option to be abandoned, and Article 50 extended, which would mean the UK remaining in the EU beyond the scheduled exit date.

The PM again faces the threat of a Tory rebellion, and even some possible ministerial resignations over Brexit.

Good week

Chuka Umunna

The former shadow business secretary basked in the media attention as he and other ex-Labour MPs launched The Independent Group.

Former Tory MP Heidi Allen dubbed Mr Umunna, who strongly advocates a second Brexit referendum, the “obvious” candidate to lead TIG when she crossed the floor of the Commons to join the new bloc.

TIG MP Chuka Umunna (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
TIG MP Chuka Umunna (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Bad Week

Liam Fox

The International Trade Secretary confirmed the UK will not be able to roll over the EU’s trade deal with Japan in time for the scheduled date of Brexit on March 29.

Dr Fox predicted in 2017 that the UK would be able to replicate up to 40 EU free trade deals, accounting for around 11% of the UK’s trade, for “a second after midnight” on Brexit day.

But so far it has been able to finalise “continuity agreements” with just seven of the 69 countries and regions with which the EU has trade deals.

Quote of the week

“If a no-deal would happen – and I can’t exclude this – this would have terrible economic and social consequences, both in Britain and on the continent.” Jean-Claude Juncker

Tweet of the week

It is with a heavy heart I have today resigned from the Conservative Party. pic.twitter.com/wzPUB84w5Z

— Anna Soubry MP (@Anna_Soubry) February 20, 2019

“It is with a heavy heart I have today resigned from the Conservative Party.” Former minister Anna Soubry joins TIG

Word of the week

Blukip

Ex-Tory-turned TIG MP Sarah Wollaston used it to describe how she believes  former Ukip members are joining the Conservatives to push the party to the right on Europe.