/Brexit Live Updates: U.K. Cabinet Deciding Fate of Draft Deal

Brexit Live Updates: U.K. Cabinet Deciding Fate of Draft Deal

• Even if the cabinet approves the draft, there are several steps before it could take effect. The deal needs the approval of the British Parliament, which is far from a certainty. The European Parliament and the bloc’s 27 other member states would also have to approve it.

• A key sticking point is the Irish border. Negotiators are trying to find a way to allow people and goods to pass through without the imposition of border controls.


Prime Minister Theresa May leaving her office on Wednesday. The cabinet meeting could make or break her political career.

Andy Rain/EPA, via Shutterstock

The backlash begins, from the left and the right

Even before the cabinet met, the backlash was well underway, with hard-line Conservatives and members of opposition parties alike condemning the plan in statements, television interviews and debate in Parliament.

Critics on both left and right argue that the deal would leave Britain subject to European Union rules, but without any say in making those rules. They are also alarmed that Britain would not have a unilateral right to quit the temporary customs union.

On the floor of Parliament, Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader, traded barbs with Prime Minister Theresa May, but she refused to be drawn into offering any details of the agreement.

“From what we know the government’s deal is a failure in its own terms,” Mr. Corbyn said. “It doesn’t deliver a Brexit for the whole country. It breaches the prime minister’s own red lines.”

Mrs. May retorted that the Labour Party had “only one intention, and that is to frustrate Brexit and betray the vote of the British people.”

Mrs. May’s former Brexit secretary, David Davis, described the deal on Twitter as “EU domination, imprisonment in the customs union and 2nd class status,” adding that “Cabinet and all Conservative MPs should stand up, be counted and say no to this capitulation.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg, a hard-core Brexit supporter, told the BBC that the proposed deal was “a failure of the government’s negotiating position and a failure to deliver.”

Mr. Corbyn, along with the leaders of the Scottish National Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Welsh party Plaid Cymru, released a letter demanding that Parliament not only vote on the deal, but that it also be allowed to consider amendments. An up-or-down vote on the negotiated agreement, Mr. Corbyn said, would be “a false choice before Parliament between her botched deal and no deal.” — STEPHEN CASTLE and RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA

The question of the Irish border

The prime minister’s Conservative Party does not have a majority in Parliament, so her government relies on Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which voiced opposition to the deal even before it was made public.

The D.U.P.’s leader, Arlene Foster, made clear in her statement late Tuesday that she was not happy with the emerging deal.

Jeffrey Donaldson, a senior D.U.P lawmaker, went further, telling the BBC on Wednesday that what he had heard of the draft Brexit deal “undermines the constitutional and economic integrity” of the United Kingdom, and warning that he was not afraid of precipitating a general election by opposing the plan.

The most delicate aspect of the plan is the so-called backstop to prevent physical checks on the border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and Ireland, which will remain in the European Union.

From what is known of the draft, Britain would stay temporarily in a customs union with the European Union until a long-term trade deal is negotiated. But the obligations on Northern Ireland would be deeper, particularly in obeying standards laid down by the European Union’s single market, leading to increased regulatory checks on goods flowing from Britain to Northern Ireland.

That is seen as an almost existential threat by the D.U.P., which wants to remain part of the United Kingdom.

For the D.U.P., voting against Mrs. May’s deal risks precipitating a general election that could bring Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition Labour Party leader, to power. Mr. Corbyn has a history of strong ties to Sinn Fein, which promotes a united Ireland. — STEPHEN CASTLE


Pro-Brexit demonstrators outside Downing Street in London on Wednesday.

Tim Ireland/Associated Press

A rhetorical about-face from Theresa May

Rest in peace, “no deal is better than a bad deal.” Long live compromise.

Mrs. May is not generally seen as a stealthy political operator, but Wednesday signaled a sharp reversal of the pledge that has been her Brexit mantra. For nearly two years, she has repeatedly assured the country that “no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain.”

This promise — that she would walk away rather than compromise Britain’s interests — helped her keep the allegiance of hard-line Brexiteers in her own party, while conveying to Brussels that it should give a little, to prevent a chaotic exit. It projected such confidence that the pound rose sharply in the hours after she first articulated it.

But on Wednesday, it appeared that Mrs. May’s message had been a bluff. It has been replaced by the opposite logic, conveyed in the most urgent terms: A compromise with the European Union — a package of wins and losses — is better than no deal.

Economists and business leaders have warned that an abrupt, “cliff edge” Brexit, without an agreement to take the place of membership, could have disastrous consequences for Britain, including shortages of food and other goods and sudden price increases. Moderate voices have long urged compromise as the only sensible solution.

But by adopting the language of her party’s euroskeptic right wing for so long, Mrs. May ran the risk of a last-minute explosion.

For Brexiteers, this deal has less to do with practical consequences than with passion and principle. Mrs. May’s adamant words made them bolder. If they feel they have been tricked, she could pay the price. — ELLEN BARRY

Looking for certainty, business leaders aren’t sure they’ve found it

Corporate Britain has so far shown a mixed response to the Brexit plan. Business leaders want a stable, predictable environment, and are divided on whether the proposed deal can provide it.

“Businesses that crave certainty and detail will have heard very little in recent days to make them feel they can now relax,” James Stewart, the head of Brexit at the consulting firm KPMG, told Bloomberg News.

Helen Dickinson, the chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said in an emailed statement: “This is a welcome step towards a deal, as retailers urgently need certainty as we approach the date of the U.K.’s departure from the E.U.”

The Financial Times reported that some business leaders were invited to Downing Street on Tuesday, as Mrs. May briefed her cabinet on the proposed deal.

“It looks to me this is the only deal in town,” Jürgen Maier, the chief executive of Siemens U.K., told Reuters. “I think it is better to get behind it, maybe fine tune it a little bit and make it work.” — JAMIE CONDLIFFE

The family alliances and splits behind the Brexit drama

The morning news shows were full of lawmakers promising that the draft deal was dead on arrival, but one indicator to the contrary came from an unlikely quarter. Sarah Vine, who writes a column in The Daily Mail, responded to the bluster with a sardonic eye-roll, remarking on Twitter: “On the whole quite a lot of willy waving going on this morning #Brexitdeal.”

To understand why Ms. Vine’s throwaway line matters, one must understand the incestuous nature of British politics in general, and the Brexit drama in particular.

[Read about the clubby, old-school world of Britain’s Conservative upper echelons.]

Aside from being a columnist for a powerful pro-Brexit tabloid, Ms. Vine is married to Michael Gove, a leading Brexiteer and member of Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet, and her remark seemed like confirmation that he would support the deal, propelling it toward a Parliament vote.

It was another reminder that family ties — and conflicts — are a central organizing principle of Britain’s elite.

Last week, Jo Johnson, who opposed Brexit, resigned from the cabinet rather than back the compromise deal, which he warned would lead to “vassalage.”

His older brother, Boris Johnson, left the cabinet over the compromise deal, but for the opposite reason: He is a standard-bearer of the Conservatives’ hard Brexit faction.

Their sister Rachel Johnson, a Daily Mail columnist, left the Conservative Party in 2017 because she opposed Brexit. Their brother Leo Johnson opposes Brexit and supports a second referendum.

After a complicated flurry of intra-family retweeting, Ms. Johnson remarked, “Maybe way to settle this matter once and for all is to spare the country another one and simply have a referendum in the Johnson family.” — ELLEN BARRY

Brussels watches, waits and wonders

Brussels was tracking events in London nervously, concerned about whether Mrs. May can get the deal through her cabinet and the Parliament — and what would follow if she could not.

In European Union offices, there is a general but unfocused hope that somehow Britain will reverse itself and remain in the European fold, presumably through a second referendum. But there is also deep fatigue, even annoyance, with the whole issue, which other member nations believe has diverted attention from pressing problems like migration, conflict with Russia, potential trade war with the United States, populist dissension within the bloc, and European elections next spring.

As the British cabinet meets Wednesday afternoon, ambassadors of the other 27 nations of the European Union will also be briefed on the draft deal. The agreement would have to be ratified by the leaders of the member nations, and by the European Parliament.

The hope is that the European Union can hold a special Brexit summit meeting before the end of November to win approval for the agreement and the accompanying nonbinding political declaration. Britain is scheduled to leave the union on March 29.

Leaks about the draft agreement have concentrated on the issue of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The resolution reportedly means Britain must adhere to European Union rules while no longer having a vote on them, an arrangement that critics have called “vassalage.”

But from the point of view of the bloc — a creature of rules, laws and regulations — anything that undercuts the single market is unacceptable, including competition on tariffs and regulations from a nonmember, as Britain soon may be.

If the agreement wins approval in Britain, the two sides must still negotiate a long-term deal on their future trading relationship. — STEVEN ERLANGER

A sleeper issue: Scotland’s status

Beyond breaking Britain away from the rest of the European Union, Brexit also poses a growing risk of breaking up the country.

Voters in Scotland rejected independence in a bitterly contested 2014 referendum, but separatism remains a potent force in Scottish politics. In 2016, Scotland voted by a wide margin, 62 percent to 38 percent, to remain in the European Union, while Britain as a whole voted to leave, 52 percent to 48 percent.

So when word leaked that Mrs. May’s Brexit deal would allow Northern Ireland to maintain a close relationship to the European market, at least temporarily, Scottish nationalists saw an opening. If Northern Ireland gets a separate deal, they asked, why shouldn’t Scotland?

Ian Blackford, the leader of the Scottish National Party, tore into the deal in Parliament on Wednesday.

“To protect jobs in Scotland, we must stay in the single market and the customs union,” he said. “The prime minister will not drag Scotland out against its will. If there is a deal to protect the economy in Northern Ireland, why not Scotland?” — BENJAMIN MUELLER

Predictions and prognostication from the British press

The power brokers of the British press weighed in on the Brexit deal, and the verdict was surprisingly muted.

Once a fierce, braying pack, ferociously attacking the slightest deviation from a clean break from the European Union, the tabloids were by and large receptive to Prime Minister Theresa May’s compromise plan — even after it was panned by hard-line Brexiteers like Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson.

The Daily Mail took aim at the Brexit hardliners and Irish unionists who have hinted they might derail the agreement in Parliament, calling them “deal wreckers” who, in the words of one Conservative member of Parliament, were “throwing their toys out of the pram.”

(The Mail had championed Brexit under its longtime editor Paul Dacre, who two years ago called the judges who decided that any Brexit deal had to pass Parliament “enemies of the people.” But its new editor, Geordie Greig, is believed to back a more cautious Brexit.)

Another tabloid, The Daily Express, also backed the plan: “This Brexit Deal Is Best For Britain,” its front page screamed.

That led to griping among hard-line Brexiters who worried that The Daily Express, like The Mail, was capitulating under new leadership.

The Times, the Rupert Murdoch-owned daily, appeared unhappy with the deal, however.

“May accused of betrayal as she unveils Brexit deal,” its front-page headline read. — BENJAMIN MUELLER

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