'A decisive step… but difficult days ahead' – Theresa May wins cabinet battle as draft Brexit deal backed

BRITISH Prime Minister Theresa May has won the battle within her Cabinet to secure support for a Brexit deal with the EU.

Mrs May has described a five hour meeting of ministers at Downing Street as “impassioned”.

She said the choice was effectively her deal or no deal.

“I believe that what I owe this country is to take decisions that are in the national interest. This is a decision which is in the best interest of the entire United Kingdom,” Mrs May said

“When you strip away the detail the choice before us is 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.

“I know there will be difficult days ahead. This is a decision that will come under intense scrutiny and that is entirely as it should be and entirely understandable.”

She noted that difficult choices had to be made, particularly when it came to Northern Ireland.

The draft Brexit deal states that Northern Ireland will maintain “full alignment” with the rules of the EU’s internal market and the customs union “which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement, to apply unless and until an alternative arrangement implementing another scenario is agreed”.

The agreement also says the EU an UK will use their “best endeavours” to conclude by December 31, 2020, an agreement which supersedes backstop protocol in whole or part.

Mrs May and her senior ministers spent hours in discussions to decide whether to back the proposed EU withdrawal agreement.

Mrs May said she believed the draft agreement was “the best that could be negotiated”.

“The cabinet has just had a long, detailed and passioned debate of our future relationship with the European Union. I firmly believe that the draft was the best that could be negotiated and it was for cabinet to decide whether to move on in the talks,” she told reporters.

“The collective decision of cabinet is that the government should agree the draft withdrawal agreement. This is a decisive step. These decisions were not taken lightly.”

EU’s Guy Verhofstadt has said the draft deal makes Brexit possible while maintaining a close relationship between th EU and UK

“While I hope one day the UK will return, in the meantime this agreement will make a Brexit possible, while maintaining a close relationship between the EU and UK, a protection of citizens rights and the avoidance of a hard Irish border.”

DUP leader Arlene Foster is now due to meet with Mrs May at 8.30pm this evening.

A statement was expected at 5pm this afternoon but the lengthy talks ran for hours later than expected. 

At one point, UK government minister Nick Hurd said that there would be no press statement from Mrs May on Brexit evening.

“I am authorised to inform the House there will be no press statement this evening. There was considerable concern in the House about that happening before the PM came to parliament,” Mr Hurd said in a statement.

However, several minutes later it was announced that Hurd ‘mis-spoke’ and that a short statement would indeed be made outside 10 Downing Street when Cabinet is over.

Meanwhile, BBC’s political editor says Brexit supporters in Theresa May’s party will “likely” call for a vote of no confidence in her as their leader on Thursday, citing a senior member of the Conservative Party.

Laura Kuenssberg said Brexiteers were so angry about May’s draft deal to leave the European Union that they were submitting letters to the head of a committee of Conservative lawmakers responsible for handling any leadership challenge.

“Senior Tory (Conservative) tells me Brexiteer anger so high that seems likely there will be a call for no-confidence vote tomorrow – letters going in,” she said on Twitter.

Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that meeting would be “very important and sensitive”.

The Taoiseach told TDs he was restricted in what he could say as his words “upend that Cabinet meeting” or making the situation “more difficult for the Prime Minister”.

However, he revealed that Irish ministers have decided the text “should be put to a vote in Dáil Éireann”.

Ministers met this morning to be briefed on the 500-page document which it is hoped will break the deadlock in the talks.

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