The British Prime Minister Theresa May scored a key victory in her negotiations with the EU over a post-Brexit association agreement between the EU and the UK when her cabinet gave its approval a deal that she had negotiated with Brussels in the last several days.
The agreement is said to include a provision for the whole of Britain temporarily remain within the Customs Union and include a potential backstop that would see UK-wide customs arrangement that would remain in force for an indeterminant amount of time. Provisions for Northern Ireland would go further concerning customs issues and its alignment with single market regulation.
May, who is expected to address the British parliament on November 15, acknowledged that her cabinet had made several politically bold decisions when it came to the so-called backstop agreement which guarantees that no hard border will exist between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
The text of the draft agreement must be officially endorsed by the UK before the EU moves to call an EU Summit on November 25.
Earlier in the day, Conservative MPs in the British parliament warned May that she could not count on their endorsement if the agreement was not advantageous to the United Kingdom’s interests. Their assertion came after several of May’s own cabinet members had expressed deep reservations about a potential agreement in the hours leading up to the prime minister’s announcement.
Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has made clear that it would reject any deal that gives Northern Ireland a special status that did not include the rest of the UK as, according to the staunchly unionist Protestant party argued, would “break-up of the United Kingdom.”
Scotland’s nationalist party leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Edinburgh would not accept any deal that would see Northern Ireland have a competitive advantage over Scotland by being granted a special access in the EU’s Customs Union and the Single Market.
Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU in 2016, less than two years after it narrowly voted to retain its status as a constituent member of the United Kingdom.
Hardline Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg reacted angrily to May’s overtures to the EU and said he is considering withdrawing his support for her to remain at 10 Downing Street. Rees-Mogg called the agreement a “failure of the government’s negotiating position,” and reiterated that continues to hold significant influence over the fate of May’s government if his 48 MPs withdraw their support, which could trigger a leadership contest.
Even supporters of the deal, including former Tory leader William Hague, said May weakened the government’s negotiating position in June 2017 by calling a general election. The Conservative Party lost its majority and is now dependent on the DUP.
Ireland’s Taoiseach, or prime minister, Leo Varadkar briefed his government about the Brexit deal but opted not to comment until the British Parliament concluded their internal discussions.