The British Prime Minister Theresa May said “The collective decision of the cabinet was to agree with the agreement reached.” She added “I believe what I owe to this country is to take decisions in the best interest of the whole country. I believe with my heart and my mind that this is the best decision in the interest of the entire United Kingdom”. “It is either this deal or no Brexit at all”, she said.
“When you strip away the detail, the choice before us was 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.”
The Cabinet had a long, detailed and impassioned debate on the draft Withdrawal Agreement (which can be accessed here) and the Outline Political Declaration on our future relationship with the European Union.
The FT reports that there was a big split in the cabinet. Downing St are making it sound better than it was. They should be on resignation watch.” Another person briefed on the meeting said “no one” was happy with the deal, but added: “Is the alternative worse? Yes.”
Jean Claude Juncker, president of European Commission, has declared “decisive progress” has been achieved in the Brexit talks in a letter to Donald Tusk.
EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier said the text was the result of “very intensive” negotiations stretching back 17 months.
“We are at an important moment in this extraordinary negotiation”, he said. “There remains a lot of work to do”, he said. “I know that the way ahead is still long and perhaps difficult to guarantee an orderly withdrawal” and a to build “durable” future partnership, he said.
Here you find the full text of the Withdrawal Agreement.
The highlights include:
- Common provisions, setting out standard clauses for the proper understanding and operation of the Withdrawal Agreement.
- Citizens’ rights, protecting the life choices of over 3 million EU citizens in the UK, and over 1 million UK nationals in EU countries, safeguarding their right to stay and ensuring that they can continue to contribute to their communities.
- Separation issues, ensuring a smooth winding-down of current arrangements and providing for an orderly withdrawal (for example, to allow for goods placed on the market before the end of the transition to continue to their destination, for the protection of existing intellectual property rights including geographical indications, the winding down of ongoing police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters and other administrative and judicial procedures, the use of data and information exchanged before the end of the transition period, issues related to Euratom, and other matters).
- A transition period, during which the EU will treat the UK as if it were a Member State, with the exception of participation in the EU institutions and governance structures. The transition period will help in particular administrations, businesses and citizens to adapt to the withdrawal of the United Kingdom.
- The financial settlement, ensuring that the UK and the EU will honour all financial obligations undertaken while the UK was a member of the Union.
- The overall governance structure of the Withdrawal Agreement, ensuring the effective management, implementation and enforcement of the agreement, including appropriate dispute settlement mechanisms.
- The terms of a legally operational backstop to ensure that there will be no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland also contains UK commitments not to diminish rights set out in the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement 1998, and to protect North-South cooperation. It provides for the possibility to continue the Common Travel Area arrangements between Ireland and the UK, and preserves the Single Electricity Market on the island of Ireland.
- A protocol on the Sovereign Base Areas (SBA) in Cyprus, protecting the interests of Cypriots who live and work in the Sovereign Base Areas following the UK’s withdrawal from the Union.
- A protocol on Gibraltar, which provides for close cooperation between Spain and the UK in respect of Gibraltar on the implementation of citizens’ rights provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement, and concerns administrative cooperation between competent authorities in a number of policy areas.
It was not immediately clear whether any ministers would resign over the deal, which May hopes will satisfy both Brexit voters and EU supporters by ensuring close ties with the bloc after Britain leaves on March 29.
But Reuters report that the weakest British leader in a generation now faces the ordeal of trying to push her deal through parliament, where opponents lined up to castigate the agreement, even before reading it.
Brexit will pitch the world’s fifth largest economy into the unknown. Many fear it will divide the West as it grapples with both the unconventional U.S. presidency of Donald Trump and growing assertiveness from Russia and China.
May gave no date for a vote in parliament but she will need the votes of about 320 of the 650 lawmakers. It is unclear whether she has the numbers.
Many opponents of Brexit are also upset as they fear Britain will be subject to the EU’s rules while getting none of the benefits of membership. Some want another referendum.
Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn called it a “botched deal”.
The Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which props up May’s government, said it would not back any deal that treated the British province differently from the rest of the United Kingdom.