Britain has struck a draft divorce deal with the European Union after more than a year of talks, thrusting Prime Minister Theresa May into a perilous battle over Brexit that could shape her country’s prosperity for generations to come.
As officials choreograph the first withdrawal of a sovereign state from the EU, May’s ultimate test will be whether she can get the deal approved by the British parliament where hardline Brexiteers accused her of surrendering to Brussels.
The British cabinet will meet at 2pm local time on Wednesday to consider the draft withdrawal agreement, a Downing Street spokesman said after Irish and British media were leaked details of the breakthrough.
But May has struggled to untangle nearly 46 years of EU membership without damaging commerce or upsetting MPs who will ultimately decide the fate of the divorce accord.
“The trick will be for Theresa May, can she satisfy everyone?” said Nigel Dodds, the deputy leader of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party which props up her minority government.
“It is going to be a very, very hard sell, I would have thought, but let’s wait and see the actual detail,” Dodds said on Tuesday.
A senior EU official confirmed that a draft text had been agreed. EU leaders could meet on November 25 for a summit to seal the Brexit deal if May’s cabinet approves the text, diplomatic sources said.
The EU and Britain need an agreement to keep trade flowing between the world’s biggest trading bloc and the United Kingdom, home to the biggest international financial centre.
By seeking to leave the EU while preserving the closest possible ties, May’s compromise plan has upset Brexiteers, pro-Europeans, Scottish nationalists, the Northern Irish party that props up her government, and some of her own ministers.
To get the deal approved she needs the votes of about 320 MPs in the 650-seat parliament.
She will have a mountain to climb.
Prominent Brexiteers such as Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg and former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said May had sold out the UK and that they would oppose it.
“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,” Conservative lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg said.
The opposition Labour Party, which has said it would oppose any agreement that does not retain “the exact same” economic benefits that it now has with the EU, said it was unlikely the announced deal was right for Britain.
“It is vassal state stuff,” Johnson said, adding that he would vote against such an unacceptable accord. “Chuck it out.”