The European Parliament expects to be able to endorse any deal with London just two weeks before Britain leaves the EU on March 29, a leading lawmaker said on Monday, highlighting how tight the schedule is to agree on divorce terms and future ties.
Danuta Hubner, head of the European parliament's constitutional affairs committee that will first handle the agreement, said the target to hold a vote would be a plenary session due March 11-14.
The chamber of 751 lawmakers will need more than two months to process the agreement
It was one of the first times a senior lawmaker has discussed the likely timing of the vote, making clear just how close to the deadline it will be. The European legislature must endorse any Brexit deal for it to take effect, meaning a "no" vote could force Britain to crash out of the EU with no accord.
"We have to vote during the first March plenary," Hubner told her committee. "The second one (due March 25-28) will be too late because after us the Council (of all EU member states) must look into this again."
She said EU leaders did not know if they "will be successful in finalising negotiations in October, or they will slip to November."
"Hopefully not beyond November," she said, adding any further delay would greatly increase the risk of the most damaging scenario of a no-deal Brexit.
Parliament officials estimate the chamber of 751 lawmakers will need more than two months to process the agreement. Lawmakers are keen to subject it to proper scrutiny to make sure it does not look like a rubber stamp.
The EU parliament also wants to vote only after Britain's parliament, to avoid endorsing a deal that may then get struck down in London.