Prime Minister Theresa May 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.
More than two years after the United Kingdom voted in a referendum to leave the EU, 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,” she said, after a five-hour meeting.
Speaking over protesters shouting anti-Brexit slogans from the end of Downing Street, she said the deal, 585 pages long, was the best that could be negotiated.
“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.
No ministers threatened to resign 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.
Brexit will pitch the world’s fifth largest economy into the unknown. Many fear it will divide the West as it grapples with both the unconventional U.S. presidency of Donald Trump and growing assertiveness from Russia and China.
Supporters of Brexit admit there may be some short-term pain for Britain’s $2.9 trillion (£2.23 trillion) economy. Notably, the deal will give Britain’s vast financial centre, the biggest source of its export and tax revenue, only a basic level of access to the bloc’s markets after Brexit.
Such an arrangement would give Britain a similar level of access to the EU as major U.S. and Japanese firms, while tying it to many EU finance rules for years to come.
Labour will announce later whether or not it will back the deal. However, leader Jeremy Corbyn said he did not believe the agreement was in the national interest.
But keen Brexiteers say that, in the long term, Britain will prosper when cut free from the EU - which they cast as a failing German-dominated experiment in European integration.
May gave no date for a vote in parliament but she will need the votes of about 320 of the 650 MPs. It is unclear whether she has the numbers.
A senior Eurosceptic lawmaker said the cabinet decision was a majority decision, not a unanimous one.
Asked if anyone had threatened to resign, a senior government official who declined to be named said “nobody”, adding: “The PM used the word ‘impassioned’ for a reason, and clearly there are strongly held views on this subject, which we acknowledge.”
During the cabinet meeting, British journalists said anger among Brexit-supporting Conservative MPs was so high that they might call for a vote of no confidence in her leadership. There was no confirmation.
.@MichelBarnier “We have never negotiated against the #UK but always with the UK. Today, in my capacity as the @EU_Commission’s chief negotiator, I consider that we have achieved decisive progress in the #Brexit negotiations. UK will remain our friend, our ally and our partner.” pic.twitter.com/zlQA285Sw2— Mina Andreeva (@Mina_Andreeva) 14 November 2018
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.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker recommended that EU leaders should now go ahead with a delayed summit to rubber-stamp the agreement. This is likely to take place on Nov. 25, diplomats said.
Former British Prime Ministrer Tony Blair had a different view.
Tony Blair: A new #Brexit referendum could lead to "a renewed offer" from the EU, says ex-PM - and "if the country votes again to leave, that's it... end of the argument"— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) 14 November 2018
More: https://t.co/JH160Pd8kQ pic.twitter.com/EfVJfDv8Ln