September 20, 2018 / 9:51 AM / 3 months ago

TIMELINE-Brexit at breaking point? Diary dates for Britain's EU departure

LONDON, Sept 20 (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Theresa May has little more than six months to negotiate a Brexit deal with the European Union, sell it to her divided Conservative Party and win parliamentary approval.

Below are significant dates as Britain nears its departure from the EU in March:

EU LEADERS MEET - Sept. 20

EU leaders in Salzburg lined up to tell May she needs to give guarantees on the Irish border before they will grant her the Brexit deal she wants to avoid Britain crashing out of the bloc.

LABOUR CONFERENCE - Sept. 23 to 26

The opposition Labour Party could play a role in the type of Brexit Britain gets. If May cannot win round her own party, she could look to Labour lawmakers to help get her plan through parliament.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s team have said the plan does not meet their tests for what Brexit should look like. But Labour is also divided and pro-EU members will press the leadership to throw their support behind calls for a second referendum at the party’s annual conference.

CONSERVATIVE CONFERENCE - Sept. 30 to Oct. 3

The Conservative Party often holds its annual conferences in a febrile atmosphere. Last year, May gave a calamitous speech in which she lost her voice, was handed a resignation notice by a prankster, and the stage backdrop fell apart as she spoke.

This time tensions over her Brexit plan are likely to dominate and rivals, such as former foreign minister Boris Johnson, are likely to use the occasion to make their leadership pitch to grassroots members.

Although May will be keen to focus on domestic policy rather than Brexit, the conference will allow her to sound out support for whatever agreement she is hoping to reach with the EU.

EUROPEAN COUNCIL - Oct. 18

May meets fellow EU leaders and the European Commission to try to seal deals on the terms of Britain’s withdrawal and what kind of relationship it has in the future.

This should cover trade and how to prevent a return of controls on the frontier between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, which will become Britain’s only land border with the EU. These are the main areas of disagreement which have caused May’s government to step up preparations for leaving without any deal.

Both sides have said that talks could slip into November without endangering the overall timeline.

SPECIAL BREXIT MEETING - Mid-November

Diplomats and EU officials say governments have been discussing holding a special Brexit summit in Brussels around Nov. 13-15 on the assumption that the October summit will be too early to approve any deal with Britain.

PARLIAMENTARY VOTE ON BREXIT DEAL - Unscheduled

If May secures a deal, she has to get parliament to approve it. Her Conservatives hold 316 seats in the 650-seat lower house, and she relies on a Northern Irish party to win parliamentary votes.

To win approval, she must overcome differences between Conservatives who want a radical break with Brussels, and those who want closer ties. Otherwise, she may have to look to the opposition for support. Both paths are full of uncertainty.

Failure could trigger a move against her leadership of the Conservative Party, or the government’s collapse and an early election.

NO DEAL STATEMENT

If there is no deal by Jan. 21, 2019, the British government must make a statement within five days on what the United Kingdom plans to do, according to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act of 2018.

BREXIT - March 29, 2019 at 2300 GMT.

Britain will formally leave the EU. Providing an exit deal is agreed, there will be a transition period during which the bulk of the bloc’s rules and regulations continue to apply while the British government formulates and implements replacement policies on issues such as immigration.

TRANSITION PERIOD ENDS - Dec. 31, 2020

The transition period, designed to ease the impact on businesses and relieve uncertainty, is due to end. Little has been agreed so far about the new arrangements between Britain and the EU on trade, customs and other major issues.

Reporting by William James; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and David Stamp

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