UK Prime Minister Theresa May appears to have finalised a draft UK withdrawal agreement with EU negotiators and is now putting the deal to Cabinet.
It is alleged the draft UK withdrawal agreement, now under discussion in cabinet, makes provision for a customs union “backstop” in Northern Ireland, whereby mainland Britain and Northern Ireland remain in a customs union with the EU and Northern Ireland further retains membership of the single market.
Leave campaigners in parliament have expressed their disapprobation at the deal, denouncing it as insufficiently Brexit; with former minister Boris Johnson urging the cabinet to reject May’s vision. Remainers have also criticised the deal; many Remainers have been campaigning for a second referendum on the terms of the draft UK withdrawal agreement, with a theoretical option to remain in the EU. May has categorically refused to countenance a second referendum, on the basis that voting once is enough.
Brussels negotiators have briefed that the ostensibly “temporary” customs union will in fact form the basis of the UK’s long term relationship with Europe, to the further irritation of hard Brexiters advocating for a clean break. William Hague, the former Conservative leader, warned the UK cabinet that if they did not support May’s draft UK withdrawal agreement, Brexit may not happen at all. It is believed he saw this as a warning.
Meanwhile DUP leader Arlene Foster has taken issue with the draft UK withdrawal agreement on the basis of its treating Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the UK. May had previously promised not to introduce a new border between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland, which this deal – referred to in Brussels as a “swimming pool” arrangement, on the basis of its having a shallow end (Britain) and a deep end (Northern Ireland) – gives the impression of doing. The backstop portion of the deal is necessary to adhere to the terms of the Good Friday Agreement by avoiding implementing a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
At time of publication, no decision has yet been made by the cabinet. Some ministers may or may not resign, which could hypothetically trigger a general election. If May’s draft UK withdrawal agreement is approved by the majority of cabinet, it could be voted on by MPs in the House of Commons and eventually, possibly, by EU Member States. Potentially an emergency EU summit on Brexit could take place on November 25, depending on the progress of the deal through parliament.