The European Parliament expects to start next week its procedure to endorse the Brexit deal negotiated between the bloc and London, lawmakers said on Tuesday, despite the fact that Britain is still struggling to finalise the divorce agreement.
Britain's Labour opposition party on Tuesday edged towards a new Brexit referendum as the deadlocked UK parliament looks for ways forward, keeping the EU waiting for what sort of majority could emerge.
They EU has told Britain it awaits its proposals but that the already negotiated - and voted down in the House of Commons - legal withdrawal agreement was the best Britain could get.
It has stressed, however, that it could work further on an accompanying text laying out future ties for Britain and the EU should London opt for a closer relationship.
"Hopefully, at the end of January we will start our procedure," lawmaker Danuta Hubner said on Tuesday of the parliamentary consent necessary for the deal to take effect.
She expected the Brexit deal to be referred to the European Parliament next Wednesday-Thursday so the lawmakers can finalise their ratification by the Brexit date of March 29.
The parliament's Brexit pointman, Guy Verhofstadt, told the same session on Tuesday that starting the process would send an important signal.
"This means there is no renegotiation possible for us of the Withdrawal Agreement. If there is renegotiation possible, it's only the Political Declaration in which we have nothing against a more deep future relationship between the EU and the UK," he said.
With time running short, the bloc is stepping up preparations for a no-deal Brexit and the two sides said they expected the parliament to receive corresponding files from the bloc's executive European Commission in mid-February.
"The problem seems to be for the moment in the UK that apparently there are only negative majorities in the House of Commons," Verhofstadt said.
"No positive majorities for alternatives at this stage. Prolonging Article 50 without having a clear plan for a way out to break the deadlock based on a majority in the House of Commons seems to me very difficult to do," he said of the EU treaty regulating Britain's departure.
Should Brexit be delayed beyond the end of June, Britain is under legal obligations to hold May elections to pick representatives to the new European Parliament, which is due to form from July.
"Whatever the solution with Brexit, this does not prevent the parliament from regularly constituting itself when the time comes and starting its functioning," Hubner said.
In the ensuing debate, lawmakers called for more strategic thinking on the EU side and flexibility to try every avenue to keep close ties with Britain.
Others, however, said Brexit should not be delayed just because of political infighting in Britain, the country should be out in two months and the EU free to get on with its own agenda.