- Theresa May has published the full text of her draft Brexit withdrawal deal.
- The text confirms that the UK would remain in the customs union as part of the Irish “backstop” arrangement.
- She faces an uphill battle to persuade ministers and backbenchers to support the deal.
- A leaked briefing from the European Union negotiator Sabine Weyand appeared to confirm many MPs’ worst fears: that the EU would seek to keep the UK permanently within its customs union.
LONDON – Theresa May has finally published the full text of her 585-page Brexit deal.
The deal, agreed to by the prime minister and her Cabinet on Wednesday evening, sets out how Britain will withdraw from its relationship with the European Union.
Under the deal:
- The whole of the UK will remain within the EU customs union.
- Northern Ireland will remain within parts of the EU single market.
- There will be no fixed end date to that arrangement.
- The UK will not be able to withdraw unilaterally from that arrangement.
- An independent panel will rule on when the measure can end.
- The Brexit transition period can be extended beyond December 31, 2020, if there is still no agreement on a future relationship.
May’s ministers backed her Brexit deal with the EU after a mammoth meeting of her Cabinet which lasted more than five hours.
May did not receive unanimous support from her Cabinet for a deal, which was not put to a vote among Cabinet members.
In a statement at Downing Street, May said her Cabinet had held a “long, detailed, and impassioned debate” but collectively agreed to go ahead with the deal.
She said the government had faced a choice between “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.”
The prime minister added: “I believe that what I owe to this country is to take decisions that are in the national interest. And I firmly believe, with my head and my heart, that this is a decision which is in the best interests of our entire United Kingdom.”
She acknowledged that “there will be difficult days ahead” as she seeks support for the deal.
The agreement will now pass to a special Brexit summit of EU leaders, expected in the final week of November, before returning to the UK Parliament in early December.
The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, told journalists that the agreement was “a decisive, crucial step in concluding these negotiations.”
A Brexit ‘backstop’
The UK has agreed to be bound by a UK-wide Brexit “backstop” which will effectively keep Britain in a customs union with the EU if the prime minister fails to secure an alternative arrangement before the end of the two-year Brexit transition period.
May believes the backstop measure – designed to be temporary – is necessary because it will ensure that no new checks emerge at the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, something seen as vital to preserving the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement.
But ministers and backbenchers are concerned because the arrangement would leave the UK without the ability to strike independent free-trade deals and subject to EU rules and regulations despite having no role in its legislation.
They are also concerned that the EU would seek to make the supposedly temporary arrangement permanent, a concern which appears to have been bolstered by a leaked briefing from Sabine Weyand, the EU’s deputy Brexit negotiator, who reportedly told EU ambassadors that UK-wide membership in the customs union should be “the basis of the future relationship.”
In other words, it looks as if the EU would aim to keep the UK in a customs union permanently, something to which all Brexiteers – and many Remainers – are implacably opposed.