A divided cabinet approves PM Theresa May’s EU withdrawal agreement

The prime minister addressed the nation after a historic five-hour meeting of the cabinet to announce they had approved the draft withdrawal agreement set out by UK and EU negotiators.

PM Theresa May told Britons that the draft withdrawal agreement was “in the best interest of our entire United Kingdom” as she emerged on the steps of Downing Street shortly after 7pm Tuesday.

She called the deal “the best that could be negotiated” and that despite there being “difficult days ahead”, she believes the deal to be “in the best interests of our entire United Kingdom”.

The prime minister said with the cabinet approval of the draft agreement, the UK could now move forward to “finalise the deal in the days ahead”.

May said parliament had a choice between “this deal, […] no deal or no Brexit at all.” This is the first time the prime minister has suggested the UK remaining in the European Union as a possibility.

Mrs May will address members of parliament in the House of Commons tomorrow.

The agreement sets out Britain’s departure and future relationship from the European Union, one which former prime minister Tony Blair has called “the worst of both worlds”.

Despite approving the deal, reports that have emerged since the break-up of the meeting suggest the cabinet was heavily divided, and that as many as ten ministers opposed the draft agreement.

The next hurdle the PM has to overcome is getting the deal through parliament, following an EU summit where European leaders will likely back the agreement.

Many hardline Brexiteers are less than impressed with the result of the two years of negotiations. That is creating much uncertainty in Downing Street. Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the eurosceptic parliamentary European Research Group announced he would not support the deal before the draft agreement was even published.

It’s impossible to forget that the government relies on the DUP to keep up their confidence-and-supply agreement. The Northern Irish party’s ten MPs are vital to Mrs May in getting legislation through parliament.

Following her address in Downing Street, Theresa May met with the DUP leader Arlene Foster to discuss the deal. Throughout the day Mrs Foster had been suggesting what she’d heard of the agreement was not to her satisfaction. She said there would be “consequences” should the deal “break up the United Kingdom”.

Even former Ukip leader Nigel Farage spoke out against the agreement, calling it the “worst deal in history”.

Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, also criticised the deal. She said it would be bad for Scotland and pose a “huge threat to jobs, investment and living standards.”

“Our bottom line – short of continued EU membership – is continued, permanent membership of the single market and customs union.”

One person who was singing Theresa May’s praises, however, was the Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar.

“I want to honour Prime Minister May’s integrity in honouring her promise to protect the peace process and Good Friday Agreement. She has been true to her word. We are absolutely committed to working with her government,” he told reporters in Dublin.

The taoiseach said it was “impossible to predict” how the deal would fare in the UK parliament, but that people had repeatedly “underestimated the metal and courage” of Prime Minister May.

“Obviously if it’s defeated in Westminster it’s hard to know where we go from there,” he continued, suggesting a parliamentary defeat could result in a no-deal or no Brexit.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier addressed the media in Brussels, shining light on the Irish border backstop as detailed in the draft agreement.

He said if there was no final agreement by the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020, an “EU-UK single customs territory” would be created until there was an agreement. Mr Barnier stressed that the backstop isn’t intended to be used, and that it is fully the intention of both parties that a deal will be reached before that time.

He praised both the EU and UK negotiating teams, thanking his colleagues in Brussels for their work since March 2017.

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