Northern Ireland news

Theresa May faces crunch cabinet meeting on Brexit deal

Brexit secretary Dominic Raab yesterday at Downing Street
Brendan Hughes

THERESA May faces a crunch cabinet meeting today to discuss the Brexit deal reached between UK and EU negotiators in Brussels.

The British prime minister met with ministers in Downing Street yesterday for one-to-one talks on the draft agreement ahead of a special cabinet meeting today at 2pm.

It follows months of protracted negotiations between officials, with efforts to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland the main stumbling block.

According to reports, the deal involves one overall 'backstop' to avoid a hard border in the form of a UK-wide customs arrangement – but with deeper provisions for Northern Ireland on customs and regulations.

A review mechanism is understood to be part of the text, RTÉ reported.

Sterling surged against the dollar and euro following news of the breakthrough, but analysts warned it could be short-lived as cabinet and parliament have yet to agree to the plans.

It is unclear whether the draft text will be enough to satisfy Mrs May's cabinet or backbench Tory Brexiteers – who want the UK to be able to unilaterally walk away from the deal to prevent it becoming permanent.

A Number 10 spokesman said the cabinet would meet at 2pm to "consider the draft agreement the negotiating teams have reached in Brussels and to decide on next steps".

"Cabinet ministers have been invited to read documentation ahead of that meeting," he said.

Brexiteers lined up to condemn the deal yesterday before its details had even been officially published.

Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson urged his ex-cabinet colleagues to "chuck it out" and warned that the proposals made a "nonsense of Brexit".

"For the first time in a thousand years, this place, this parliament, will not have a say over the laws that govern this country. It is a quite incredible state of affairs," he told the BBC.

Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the influential European Research Group, said: "It is a failure of the government's negotiating position, it is a failure to deliver on Brexit and it is potentially dividing up the United Kingdom."

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, whose party props up Mrs May's minority government, said the deal as reported would leave Northern Ireland "subject to the rules and laws set in Brussels with no democratic input or any say".

"We object to that on constitutional grounds that our laws would be made in Brussels, not in Westminster or Belfast. That is the fundamental red line," he said.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said his party would vote against the deal if it failed to meet its tests.

"We will look at the details of what has been agreed when they are available," he said.

"But from what we know of the shambolic handling of these negotiations, this is unlikely to be a good deal for the country."

Neither Brussels nor Dublin confirmed that a deal had been reached, despite the Number 10 announcement.

However, an Irish government spokesman said taoiseach Leo Varadkar has called a cabinet meeting for 9.30am on Wednesday to consider developments.

A spokesman for tánaiste Simon Coveney said negotiations were at a "sensitive" juncture and they were "not commenting on media speculation".

"Michel Barnier and the task force are charged with negotiating with the UK and we have been in constant communication with them throughout," he said.

A spokesman for the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said that while the talks were making progress "we are not there yet" and the European Commission would "take stock" today.

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