EU attempts to give Brexit reassurances ahead of a crunch vote

Key Points
  • The EU and British government have published an exchange of letters on Brexit.
  • The text is designed to pressure U.K. lawmakers to vote for the provisionally agreed deal.
  • The vote on the deal takes place on Tuesday evening in London.
British Prime Minister Theresa May departs after speaking at a press conference after attending a special session of the European Council over Brexit on November 25, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium.
Sean Gallup | Getty Images News | Getty Images

An exchange of letters between the U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and Europe's top two lawmakers looks to have done little to improve the chances of her Brexit deal being passed in the U.K. Parliament.

May has placed a motion before lawmakers in the lower house of parliament, asking them to rubber stamp her withdrawal and future relationship agreement with the European Union. The vote is scheduled to take place on Tuesday at some point between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. London time.

The government is forecast to lose the vote, with the main sticking point for some being the Northern Irish "backstop" which has been written into the withdrawal agreement.

This acts as a safety net to prevent any hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which is remaining as an EU member country. But many of May's critics see this provision as a way in which Britain could possibly be tied to the European Union indefinitely.

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A letter from the EU to May on Monday has been published in a bid to reassure U.K. lawmakers who dislike May's deal. The letter reiterated that the backstop would likely not be used and if so, would only be temporary.

The letter, co-signed by European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, however noted there can be no change to the draft withdrawal agreement or future political arrangement that have been provisionally agreed.

That lack of firm legal assurance is unlikely to convince Brexiteer opponents to vote for May's deal. This despite a passage in the text that said a commitment to a trade deal made by EU leaders, that would end any need for a backstop, held "legal value."

A letter sent from May to the European Union, reinforcing areas of agreement, was published at around the same time.

The Northern Irish party that currently supports Theresa May's party in government has already disparaged the exchange of letters. A statement from the Democratic Unionist Party's Deputy Leader, Nigel Dodds, was reported by Reuters as saying the EU text did not go far enough.

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Meanwhile, May warned in a speech on Monday that Brexit could be stopped if lawmakers reject her deal.

Following that speech and publication of the letters, sterling rose around 0.2 percent to $1.287, a level not seen since mid-November.

In a further address, this time to the U.K.parliament on Monday afternoon, May said the backstop arrangement as its stands must stay as otherwise "rejecting the backstop altogether means no deal."

She added that any move by parliament to block Brexit would be a "subversion of our democracy."