LONDON, Nov 15 – A crucial cabinet meeting where Theresa May’s most senior ministers debated the draft EU withdrawal agreement has ended.
The meeting inside 10 Downing Street lasted for five hours.
The prime minister is expected to make a statement shortly, with the EU due to publish the withdrawal documents if it gets the green light from London.
Some Tory MPs and opposition parties have already criticised what the agreement is thought to contain.
Earlier Mrs May said it would allow the UK government to take back control of borders, laws and money.
But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the UK would be stuck in an “indefinite half-way house without any real say” over the rules.
Criticism of the draft agreement has focused on ways to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland.
Some Conservative Brexiteers are angry, claiming it could mean the UK is tied to EU rules for years to come.
A senior Conservative told the BBC there could be a move to a vote of no-confidence in Mrs May, perhaps as soon as Thursday, although this has not been confirmed. Sources said many Brexiteer MPs were likely to submit letters to the backbench 1922 Committee calling for her to go.
If 15% of Tory MPs (currently 48) do this it would trigger a vote of no confidence.
Meanwhile Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party – which supports Mrs May’s government in key votes – warned of “consequences” if there is a deal that “breaks up the United Kingdom”.
The BBC’s Norman Smith said the prime minister would seek to head off the threat of any resignations by telling her cabinet ministers that while not perfect, the agreement was as good as it can get.
Downing Street, he added, were pointing to what they view as significant wins, including no separate customs border for Northern Ireland and an arbitration mechanism to ensure the UK can exit the proposed “backstop” customs plan.
Just ahead of the cabinet meeting, all 13 Scottish Tory MPs, including Scottish Secretary David Mundell, signed a letter to the prime ministersaying they would not support a Brexit deal that prevents the UK from negotiating its own fishing quotas.
Access and quotas “cannot be included in the Future Economic Partnership” and the UK must leave the Common Fisheries Policy at the end of 2020, they added.
The draft withdrawal agreement addresses the Northern Ireland “backstop”, which aims to guarantee that physical checks will not be reintroduced at the border with the Irish Republic, in the event of the EU and UK failing to agree a deal on future trading relations that involves not having a physical border.
This has proven the most contentious part of the withdrawal negotiations, with concerns raised by Brexiteer Tories and the DUP over how it will work.
The backstop within the agreed draft is believed to avoid a return to a “hard border” with the Republic by keeping the UK as a whole aligned with the EU customs union for a limited time.
However, some Brexiteers fear this will keep the UK locked into EU trade rules for years.
The agreement also includes commitments over citizens’ rights after Brexit, a proposed 21-month transition period after the UK’s departure on 29 March 2019 and details of the so-called £39bn “divorce bill”.
The future relationship statement is expected to be far shorter, with the UK and the EU’s long-term trade arrangements yet to be settled.