British MPs will vote on Prime Minister Theresa May's EU withdrawal deal on January 15, the government said Tuesday, while denying growing speculation it might seek to delay Brexit if the agreement is rejected.
May postponed an initial vote last month in the face of opposition from all sides of the House of Commons, but has now set it for next Tuesday evening after 1900 GMT, following five days of debate which start on Wednesday.
May is still struggling to convince both opposition lawmakers and her own Conservative party to back the divorce agreement, heightening fears Britain could leave the European Union on March 29 without a deal.
May is hosting several drinks parties for lawmakers this week in a bid to win them round, arguing her deal is the best compromise that ends EU membership while protecting jobs.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove told cabinet colleagues that critics holding out for a better deal were like swingers in their mid-50s waiting for Hollywood star Scarlett Johansson to turn up on a date.
But with opposition among MPs still strong, there is growing speculation London could seek to delay the EU's two-year Article 50 exit process to allow more time to get the deal through parliament.
A source in Brussels told AFP several weeks ago that Britain has been discussing the possibility with European officials, and a junior British minister, Margot James, publicly voiced the idea on Monday.
But May's spokesman insisted: "We will not be extending Article 50. "There are people in the European Union who are discussing this issue, but that is not the position of the UK government."
The other 27 EU leaders have repeatedly said they will not reopen the deal struck with Britain in November, which covers key separation issues such as money and expatriate citizens' rights.
"I don't work on hypotheses -- the current situation is complex enough... Let's stick to where we are now," she added.
An EU diplomat also told AFP that the idea of delaying Brexit "is a very hypothetical option".
Any extension to Britain's departure would be complicated by the elections to the European Parliament in May. After Brexit, it will no longer be represented in the assembly.
May is looking at a possible time limit to the backstop arrangement and increased parliamentary scrutiny to try to sway MPs.
But if her efforts fail, many fear Britain could leave the EU with no deal, with potentially disastrous legal and economic consequences.
The impact of a disorderly Brexit would also be felt across Europe, including in the EU budget.
May's deal sets out plans for a post-Brexit transition period in which Britain would keep making financial contributions until December 2020.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)