May calls cabinet meeting as draft Brexit deal agreed

Cabinet will decide on the next steps after reading the terms of the agreement.

Brexit: May admitted some issues remain unresolved (file pic). <strong>PA</strong>
Brexit: May admitted some issues remain unresolved (file pic). PA

A draft Brexit deal has been reached by negotiators in Brussels and will be the focus of a crunch Cabinet meeting on Wednesday afternoon.

Cabinet ministers were invited to read the papers relating to the draft deal on Tuesday night ahead of the special meeting of Theresa May’s senior team “to decide on next steps”.

A Number 10 spokesman said: “Cabinet will meet at 2pm tomorrow to consider the draft agreement the negotiating teams have reached in Brussels and to decide on next steps.

“Cabinet ministers have been invited to read documentation ahead of that meeting.”

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Ministers have been seen entering and leaving Downing Street throughout the day after Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.

Confirmation that a deal had been reached by officials follows months of protracted talks in Brussels, with measures to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland the main stumbling block.

Irish broadcaster RTE reported that a “stable” text had been agreed on the thorny issue of the Northern Irish border.

The broadcaster said the deal involved one overall “backstop” in the form of a UK-wide customs arrangement – as sought by Ms May – but with deeper provisions for Northern Ireland on customs and regulations.

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A review mechanism is understood to be part of the text, but it is unclear whether that would meet the demands of Tory Brexiteers – including some in the Cabinet – who want the UK to be able to unilaterally walk away from the deal to prevent it becoming a permanent settlement.

In a sign that Dublin may not be happy with the situation, a spokesman for Ireland’s deputy premier Simon Coveney said: “Negotiations between the EU and UK on a withdrawal agreement are ongoing and have not concluded.”

The developments came after the Prime Minister told Cabinet on Tuesday morning that a “small number” of issues remained to be resolved and her de facto deputy David Lidington described a deal as “almost within touching distance”.

Scottish secretary David Mundell said the draft Brexit agreement was “encouraging” but suggested the details could yet stymie agreement.

He said colleagues needed to “reflect on the detail”, understood to be referring to the latest technical details of the Northern Irish backstop.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon expressed more caution, however.

She tweeted: “If the PM’s ‘deal’ satisfies no-one and can’t command a majority, we mustn’t fall for her spin that the UK crashing out of EU without a deal is then inevitable – instead we should take the opportunity to get better options back on the table.”

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She also warned if the deal was “vague and dodges tough issues” on the UK’s future relationship with the EU then “a blindfold Brexit would beckon” – with Ms Sturgeon insisting it would “be deeply irresponsible for parliament to sanction that”.

Meanwhile, Scotland’s constitutional relations secretary Mike Russell has hit out at the UK Government after the deal was agreed with Brussels.

Mr Russell insisted it was “completely unacceptable” that Holyrood ministers and the other devolved administrations had not been given details of the draft document.

“We must be able to scrutinise the deal and understand its implications,” he said.

He was also clear that “reaching agreement at technical level does not negate the threat posed by Brexit to jobs and living standards” adding the “best way to avoid that is to stay in the EU, in line with how people in Scotland voted”.

And he reiterated the Scottish Government’s stance that if it was not possible, the only option Holyood ministers would accept was one keeping the UK in both the European single market and customs union.


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