British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to trigger Brexit this week by formally notifying the European Union of Britain's intention to leave the bloc, sending her country into uncharted waters.
The legislation empowering May to put Britain on a course that no EU member state has ever taken returns to parliament for its final stages on Monday as European capitals prepare for mammoth negotiations.
After heated debate and a delay in the upper House of Lords, the bill could win final approval by both houses by Monday evening. It could be signed into law by the head of state Queen Elizabeth II as early as Tuesday, leaving May's path clear to begin Brexit whenever she wants.
The prime minister promised months ago to invoke Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty, starting the two-year withdrawal process, by the end of March. Last week she expressed her impatience, telling reporters at a Brussels summit: "Our European partners have made clear to me that they want to get on with the negotiations, and so do I."
Once May has notified the EU of her decision by letter, the other 27 EU leaders will take some 48 hours to issue their first draft proposal for the negotiations, but talks are not actually expected to begin for months as both sides finalise strategies.
EU leaders have planned a follow-up meeting on April 6, "provided that the prime minister moves Article 50, I think by March 15th", Irish premier Enda Kenny said.
What could happen if the UK leaves the EU without a Brexit deal, asks @LibbyWienerITV? https://t.co/cyzwK8rhjX pic.twitter.com/qOt5TrC1qD — ITV News (@itvnews) March 12, 2017
Downing Street has played down speculation that May could announce the start of Brexit during a planned statement to MPs on the EU summit on Tuesday.
Triggering Article 50 could also encourage the Scottish nationalists who hold power in the devolved government in Edinburgh, who are meeting on Friday.
A majority in Scotland voted for Britain to stay in the EU, but across the whole kingdom 52% voted to leave.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the Scottish National Party, has said Brexit makes a second independence vote "highly likely".
She was to make a Brexit speech on Monday which could raise the prospect of another secession referendum if May does not heed to SNP demands.
A BMG survey of 1,009 people for Scottish broadsheet The Herald found that 56% of those who expressed views were against another independence vote before Brexit occurs.
Some 52% said they were against Scotland seceding from the UK.
Nigel Farage says that a vote from the House of Lords to block the Brexit bill would be a "vote for their own abolition". pic.twitter.com/k4H0prTAsg— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) March 12, 2017