Theresa May braced for Cabinet resignations as she tells ministers to back her Brexit deal

Prime Minister Theresa May Getty
  • Theresa May to hold historic Cabinet meeting with senior ministers to discuss the draft Brexit deal.
  • The prime minister will attempt to persuade ministers to back the deal amid fury among pro-Brexit MPs and speculation of multiple Cabinet resignations.
  • The deal agreed this week will keep the UK wedded to EU customs and single market rules for years after Brexit in order to avoid no hard border on the island of Ireland.
  • EU and UK hope to sign it off in Brussels later this month.
  • However, there is a strong possibility of the deal being voted down by MPs.
  • Around 3,000 People’s Vote campaigners gathered in Westminster on Tuesday night.

LONDON – Theresa May is braced for a series of resignations from her Cabinet today as she urges them to sign up to the draft Brexit deal agreed between the UK and EU negotiating teams this week.

News broke on Tuesday afternoon that UK and EU negotiators had finally agreed on the text of a Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. Negotiators made a breakthrough on the issue of the Irish border after months of impasse.

Brexit-supporting ministers of the Cabinet, particularly Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, are under pressure from pro-Brexit Conservative MPs to take a stand against May’s deal, or even resign from their roles in government.

A member of the European Research Group of pro-Brexit Tories told Business Insider they were “absolutely shellshocked” that May had kept “none of the promises” she had made to the group of around 80 passionate Leavers.

They added that pro-Brexit members of the Cabinet “who campaigned with us [ERG MPS] should make sure this deal never reaches the House of Commons” for a meaningful vote this winter.

Pro-Brexit Conservative MPs including former Tory party leader Iain Duncan Smith, former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, and ERG leader Jacob Rees-Mogg all described the deal as unacceptable.

Former Brexit Secretary David Davis tweeted: “This is the moment of truth. This is the fork in the road. Do we pursue a future as an independent nation or accept EU domination, imprisonment in the customs union and 2nd class status. Cabinet and all Conservative MPs should stand up, be counted and say no to this capitulation.”

However, the Cabinet’s most heavyweight Brexiteers are not likely to resign en masse this afternoon, despite their reservations with the draft withdrawal deal, according to reports.

Raab, plus Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Environment Secretary Michael Gove, Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling are all reportedly prepared to stick with May.

The ministers who are most likely to quit in the next few hours are International Development Penny Mordaunt and Work And Pensions Secretary Esther McVey. Business Insider reported last month that both were prepared to resign if May’s Brexit deal didn’t satisfy their demands on the backstop for avoiding a hard Irish border.

Before her crunch meeting with ministers, May will lock horns with Jeremy Corbyn in Prime Minister’s Questions, where the Labour leader is certain to probe her Brexit deal and the war ensuing within the Conservative party.

Dominic Raab
Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab WPA Pool/Getty

What do we know about the deal?

UK and EU negotiators on Tuesday agreed to a so-called “backstop” plan designed to ensure there is no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic no matter what the outcome of future negotiations between the two side.

The backstop will come into effect at the end of the two-year transition period if negotiators haven’t by that time produced a UK-EU free trade deal that preserves the invisible border on the island of Ireland.

According to the reported draft deal, the whole of the UK will:

  • Remain within a customs union with the EU.
  • Northern Ireland will also remain in parts of the single market.
  • There will be no fixed end date to the arrangement.
  • The UK will not be able to unilaterally withdraw from it.

This is a controversial model for a number of reasons. During this period, the UK will be unable to sign meaningful new trade deals with other countries, because it will be locked into the EU’s customs arrangements. It will also have to follow a number of strict EU rules in areas like the environment, employment protection, and state aid.

Crucially there will also not be a fixed end date to the arrangement. Instead, an independent panel of adjudicators will decide when it can come to an end and the UK is free to leave the EU’s orbit for good.

However, as Politico reports on Wednesday, the EU expects the UK-wide customs union backstop to form the basis of a future trade deal. In other words, the EU is preparing for a permanent customs union with the UK.

Then there is the Democratic Unionist Party which props up May’s fragile government.

The party’s leader, Arlene Foster, has repeatedly warned the prime minister that her party will not accept any new border checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK after Brexit.

However, under this draft deal, there will be new checks on the east-west border. For example, live animals and animal-derived products crossing the border will undergo checks that currently don’t take place. The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said last month that these checks would increase tenfold on current inspections.

“We are clear – we will not be voting for this humiliation!” the DUP’s Sammy Wilson tweeted on Wednesday.

People’s Vote campaigners tell May: ‘We’re not buying it’

People's vote

On Tuesday night around 3,000 supporters of the People’s Vote campaign gathered in Westminster to hear speeches from MPs including ex-Education Secretary Justine Greening, David Lammy, and Jo Johnson, who quit as Transport Secretary last week to oppose May’s handling of Brexit and declare support for another referendum.

Campaigners for a People’s Vote – a referendum on the outcome of Brexit negotiations – believe that their cause has been boosted in recent weeks as the chances of May getting a deal through Parliament have decreased.

Johnson claimed a number of ministers are “looking into their consciousness” and deliberating whether to follow him by quitting the government over the direction of Brexit negotiations.

“The future of the Conservative party will be gravely in peril if it is associated with this deal,” he said in a question and answer session with TV presenter and ex-England footballer, Gary Lineker, who appeared at the People’s Vote rally.

Greening said that “doesn’t need to happen” and added: “Even if some people in my party [the Conservatives] can’t see this is a bad deal, everyone else on the planet can.”