Theresa May’s Cabinet backed her Brexit deal amid reports of an imminent leadership challenge

Theresa May. Getty
  • Theresa May’s Cabinet backed her Brexit deal after ministers discussed it at length during a five-hour meeting.
  • Some pro-Brexit Conservative MPs have threatened to oust the prime minister if she pushes ahead with the deal.
  • The draft agreement, reached between European Union and UK negotiators on Tuesday, will pass to an EU summit later this month where the EU’s other 27 countries will be asked whether to approve it.
  • The deal would then return in early December to the UK Parliament, where May faces a tough battle to win the approval of MPs.
  • However, rumours are mounting in Westminster of an imminent challenge to May’s leadership by Brexiteer Conservative MPs.

LONDON – Theresa May’s ministers have backed her Brexit deal with the European Union 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 on Wednesday, 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, which you can read in full here, 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.”

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.

The prime minister will struggle to win support for her deal in Parliament.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the chairman of the European Research Group, an anti-EU group of backbenchers, told Tory MPs on Wednesday evening that he “can not support the proposed agreement in Parliament and would hope that Conservative MPs would do likewise.”

He said the deal “would treat Northern Ireland differently than the rest of the UK” and “lock us into an EU customs union.”

The Democratic Unionist Party, which props up May’s minority government, also signalled that it would not vote for the deal. Its leader, Arlene Foster, was due to meet with May late Wednesday.

Conservative Brexiteers plot to oust May

Theresa May

As ministers met in Downing Street, rumours swirled in Westminster that May could face a vote of no confidence from furious pro-Brexit MPs.

Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC’s political editor, described a senior Tory as saying that “Brexiteer anger” was “so high that seems likely there will be a call for no confidence vote tomorrow.”

There were other reports of multiple letters of no confidence being sent to Conservative authorities on Wednesday evening, though it remained unclear whether the 48-letter threshold for a vote of no confidence in the prime minister would be met.

Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservatives to whom MPs must address their letters, is forbidden from disclosing how many he has received.

A Conservative MP told Business Insider that “the truth is nobody knows” whether there will be a challenge from Conservative Brexiteers, adding, “There is definitely a lot of noise from them, but not really sure how many of them are true Brexit purists willing to risk the government and even Brexit itself.”

Conservative Brexiteer Conor Burns told LBC that there was “a lot of febrile talk” among Conservative MPs.

“What I can tell you is there’s no orchestrated attempt to put letters in,” Burns said. “But sensing the levels of frustration and annoyance colleagues are feeling it would not surprise me if organically letters are going in.”

One factor is the party rulebook, which states that if a challenge were to fail then Conservative MPs would have to wait a full year before mounting another.

The nearly 600-page draft deal covers the nature of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU as well as the framework for Britain’s future relationship with the EU.

Under the agreement, the UK agrees 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.