Prime Minister Theresa May will chair a make or break meeting of her cabinet this afternoon as she fights to win backing for an outline agreement on Brexit with the EU.
As a prelude to the 2pm meeting, ministers were summoned individually to Downing Street to be briefed by Mrs May and read the 500-page draft deal in a secure room.
But even before full details of the agreement are known, it has attracted criticism from Tory rebels, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the Labour opposition.
Conservative Remain and Leave supporters have called for it to be rejected and the DUP’s Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said it could cause the break-up of the UK.
There has also been widespread speculation that the deal could trigger resignations by cabinet ministers concerned that it will leave the UK tied to the EU for many years.
The draft could be made public by the EU Commission later today if it is approved by Mrs May’s cabinet, along with details of future security and economic arrangements.
After that the next hurdles would be:
- Organising an emergency summit later this month, earmarked for 25 November, for all 27 EU member states to sign off on it.
- A vote on the deal in Parliament, which is expected to attract opposition from within the Conservative Party, the DUP, Labour and possibly the SNP.
The deal agreed between the EU and UK yesterday includes a guarantee over the so-called ‘Irish backstop’ that has stalled talks for so long.
This will ensure that border checks are not reinstated between Northern Ireland and the Republic if the EU and UK fail to agree on a trading deal after 2021.
It is believed that the ‘backstop agreement’ will be achieved by keeping the whole of the UK in the EU’s customs union for a limited time.
This has alarmed Brexiteers and some Remainers who fear it will keep the UK tied to EU trade rules for years without any voting rights.
Guarantees over the rights of EU and UK citizens after Brexit are also believed to be covered by the agreement, covering the transition period to December 31, 2021.
Details of the £39 billion demanded from the UK by the EU as part of a ‘divorce settlement’ are also expected to be spelled out.
The pound rallied slightly against the dollar when markets opened this morning, rising 0.12 per cent against the dollar and 0.16 per cent against the Euro in response to the news.
What they say
Reaction to news of the proposed deal was swift, even though full details have not yet been released:
Jeffrey Donaldson of the DUP told Radio 4’s Today programme: “This has the potential to lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom and that’s not something we can support”.
Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party leader, said it was “unlikely to be a good deal for the country” and that protecting jobs and the economy was his top priority after Brexit.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, a leading Tory Brexiteer, told BBC Newsnight that he could withdraw his support for Mrs May as Prime Minister as a result.
Boris Johnson, the pro-Brexit former Foreign Secretary, said the Northern Ireland backstop arrangement was “unacceptable to anyone who believes in democracy.”
Justine Greening, a Tory Remainer, told a People’s Vote rally last night: “Even if some in my party can’t see this is a bad deal, everyone else around the entire planet can.”
Jo Johnson, who resigned as a minister over Mrs May’s Brexit plans, said ministers were “looking deep into their consciences” about supporting the deal or not.
Lord Hague, former Conservative leader, said the agreement involved compromises but would allow the UK to regain control of immigration, fishing and farming.