British Prime Minister Theresa May claims cabinet backs draft Brexit deal – but tales of division emerge from marathon meeting

  • May – who said the choices amounted to her deal, no deal, or no Brexit – must now face the ordeal of getting the UK parliament to back the agreement
  • Sky News says 10 ministers opposed the deal, but it was not immediately clear whether any had resigned
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 November, 2018, 3:56am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 November, 2018, 7:15am

British Prime Minister Theresa May emerged from a marathon cabinet meeting to claim she had won the backing of her senior ministers for a draft European Union divorce deal on Wednesday, freeing her to tackle the much more perilous struggle of getting parliament to approve the agreement.

But reports were emerging of a deeply divided cabinet, with Sky News saying that nearly 10 cabinet ministers opposed the plan. And May herself described the options with what sounded like an ultimatum: this deal, no deal, or no Brexit.

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Nevertheless, more than two years after the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU in a referendum, May told reporters outside her Downing Street residence that she had won over her divided cabinet, which includes some senior Brexiteers.

“The collective decision of cabinet was that the government should agree the draft withdrawal agreement and the outline political declaration,” May said after a five-hour cabinet meeting.

“I firmly believe that the draft withdrawal agreement is the best that could be negotiated,” May said as protesters shouted anti-Brexit slogans from the end of the street.

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“When you strip away the detail, the choice before us was clear: this deal, which delivers on the vote of the referendum, which brings back control of our money laws and borders, ends free movement, protects jobs security and our Union; or leave with no deal; or no Brexit at all,” she said.

Soon afterwards, the European Union and the British government jointly published the detailed 585-page draft of the Brexit divorce deal, as well as a shorter political statement on ambitions for a future relationship beyond Brexit.

It was not immediately clear whether any ministers had resigned over the deal, which May hopes will satisfy both Brexit voters and EU supporters by ensuring close ties with the bloc after Britain leaves on March 29.

The meeting went on for more than two hours longer than scheduled, in another sign of the deep divisions in May’s government.

May, the weakest British leader in a generation, now faces the ordeal of trying to push her deal through a vote in the British parliament, where opponents lined up to castigate the agreement, even before reading it.

It is not yet clear when parliament might vote on a deal. To get it approved, May needs the votes of about 320 of parliament’s 650 lawmakers.

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The ultimate outcome for the United Kingdom remains uncertain: scenarios range from a calm divorce to rejection of May’s deal, potentially sinking her premiership and leaving the bloc with no agreement, or another referendum.

May, an initial opponent of Brexit who won the top job in the turmoil following the referendum, has staked her future on a deal that she hopes will solve the Brexit riddle: leaving the EU while preserving the closest possible ties.

But she has satisfied few.

Brexit supporters in May’s Conservative Party, which has been rived by a schism over Europe for three decades, said she had surrendered to the EU and that they would vote down the deal.

The Northern Irish Democratic Unionist party (DUP) which props up May’s government, said it would not back any deal that treated the British province differently from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn called it a “botched deal”.

Before May’s statement, the BBC’s political editor said anger among Brexit-supporting Conservative lawmakers in her party was so high that it was likely they would call on Thursday for a vote of no confidence in her leadership of the party.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse