By Philip Blenkinsop
BRUSSELS (Reuters) -The European Parliament gave the go-ahead on Tuesday for two key committees to vote this week on the EU-UK trade deal, but deferred a decision on whether the full parliament will give its assent later this month.
Ratification by the parliament is the final step in clearing the trade and cooperation agreement struck between Britain and the European Union in December. It has until the end of April to do so.
If it does not, and the provisional application of the agreement is not extended, then the trade deal would cease to apply, leaving Britain and the European Union to trade on WTO terms with tariffs and quotas.
Members of the parliament suspended the voting process in March in protest against British changes to arrangements on Northern Ireland.
The British-ruled province of Northern Ireland in the EU single market for goods – given its open border with EU member Ireland – and so requires checks on goods arriving there from other parts of the United Kingdom.
Some checks were due to start when a grace period expired at the end of March, but Britain decided to extend that to Oct. 1 to help Northern Irish retailers struggling to source supplies. This prompted a legal challenge from Brussels.
Since then technical experts from both sides have sought to overcome differences, which Britain said on Monday were still “significant”.
Christophe Hansen, one of two lawmakers overseeing the process, said in a tweet that the parliament’s trade and foreign affairs committees would jointly vote this week. Two parliamentary officials said this would happen on Thursday.
However, Hansen added that a decision on when the full parliament would vote was deferred because parliament wanted to see progress on implementing the withdrawal agreement.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; editing by Kate Abnett and John Stonestreet)