EU leaders will hold crisis talks within 48 hours if the Brexit deal is rejected by British MPs, Yahoo Finance UK has learned.
The leaders of all 28 EU member states are due in Brussels for a summit on 13 December – just two days after the ‘meaningful vote’ on the deal takes place in the House of Commons.
Brexit will not formally be on the agenda for the meeting, which is meant to be dedicated to discussions over the EU budget and migration.
But two EU sources have told Yahoo Finance UK that the agenda will be torn up if the Brexit deal is voted down.
“We hope that prime minister May gets the negotiated deal through Westminster because it is the best and only deal available,” said one diplomat.
“If this deal does not get the necessary support in the House of Commons, I am sure that Brexit will be discussed among the leaders in December.”
Another diplomat said such a Brexit crisis was likely to “dominate” discussions between the likes of German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron.
They said the only question was whether Theresa May would attend the summit, raising the prospect of her quitting as prime minister after a heavy defeat on the deal.
May’s chances of survival were dealt a blow on Tuesday when her government suffered a humbling hat-trick of defeats in the Commons over Brexit legal advice.
The start of the five-day debate on the deal has also laid bare the scale of opposition to it on both sides of the Commons.
Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab said that “reasonably modest changes” to the withdrawal agreement would make it acceptable to him.
But his demands include changes to the backstop which will not be countenanced by the EU.
Changes could though be made to the political declaration on the future relationship if it helped get the deal through at a second attempt, one of the diplomats said.
Despite the expectation that the deal will be voted down by MPs, the EU pressed ahead on Wednesday with legal formalities necessary for it to come into force.
European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker insisted: “We don’t know what the decision of the British parliament will be.”
Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis told Yahoo Finance UK: “We are preparing for the deal. We have agreed on the deal. We are making sure it can be implemented and in parallel we have done some contingency planning [for no-deal].”
A UK government official in Brussels said they were still hopeful of securing the support of MPs.
In a video on the situation, French MEP Sylvie Guillaume quipped: “The United Kingdom hasn’t finished imploding.”