UK Prime Minister Theresa May in parliament, London, Britain, on January 29 2019. Picture: REUTERS
UK Prime Minister Theresa May in parliament, London, Britain, on January 29 2019. Picture: REUTERS

London — The UK government will seek to speed up ratification of its Brexit deal with the EU if time gets too tight to pass legislation before Britain’s March 29 exit day, says Prime Minister Theresa May.

May told ministers on Tuesday that parliament, which in January roundly rejected her Brexit deal, would not vote on a revised deal this week. Media have reported a fresh vote is not expected until late February at the earliest.

Parliamentary experts have said that even if May gets MPs to approve a deal Britain may need to request an extension to the article 50 exit negotiation period for the necessary legislation to be passed.

After it has voted to support her deal, parliament must also pass a law — the Withdrawal Agreement Bill — formally ratifying the agreement.

Asked by an MP if an extension was now inevitable due to a legal requirement that the government put a treaty to parliament 21 sitting days before it could  be ratified, May said the government might fast-track that process.

“While we will follow normal procedure if we can, where there is insufficient time remaining … we will make provision in the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, with parliament’s consent, to ensure that we are enabled to ratify on time to guarantee our exit in an orderly way,” May said.

The 21-day period is usually intended to give parliament time to study an agreement but it will already have had plenty of time to do so as the deal was reached in 2018, May said.

Several previous major bills on Britain’s relationship with Europe have taken more than 30 sitting days to pass. After this week, there are just 26 sitting days left before exit day.

“I am sure that when a meaningful vote has been agreed in this house then every member … will want to ensure that they are able to operate on a timetable that enables us to leave at the end of the two-year period agreed,” said May.