UK cabinet to meet after Britain, EU reach draft Brexit deal

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British and EU negotiators have reached a draft Brexit agreement that will be examined by the UK cabinet at an emergency meeting.

An anti-Brexit demonstrator holds placards opposite the Houses of Parliament, in London, Britain, November 13, 2018.
An anti-Brexit demonstrator holds placards opposite the Houses of Parliament, in London, Britain, November 13, 2018. (Reuters)

Negotiators from Britain and the European Union have struck a proposed divorce deal that will be presented to politicians on both sides for approval, officials in London and Brussels said on Tuesday.

After a year and a half of stalled talks, false starts and setbacks, negotiators agreed on proposals to resolve the main outstanding issue: the Irish border.

Prime Minister Theresa May is unlikely to have negotiated the right Brexit deal for Britain, the opposition Labour party’s Brexit spokesman said on Tuesday, adding that he needed to see details of the withdrawal agreement.

“Given the shambolic nature of the negotiations, this is unlikely to be the right deal for Britain,” Keir Starmer told the BBC, reiterating the party stance that it would not back a Brexit deal which did not meet the party’s tests.

TRT World’s Sarah Morice reports from London.

In the meantime, Britain’s Boris Johnson said the agreement with Brussels was “vassal state stuff” that would not protect Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, and said he would vote against it when it comes before parliament.

“It is utterly unacceptable to anyone who believes in democracy.

“For the first time since partition, Dublin under these proposals will have more say in some aspects of the government of Northern Ireland than London. I don’t see how you can support it.”

Meeting on both sides

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s office said the Cabinet would hold a special meeting on Wednesday to consider the proposal. Its support isn’t guaranteed: May is under pressure from pro-Brexit ministers not to make further concessions to the EU.

Ambassadors from the 27 other EU countries are also due to hold a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday.

May told the Cabinet earlier Tuesday that “a small number” of issues remain to be resolved in divorce negotiations with the European Union, while her deputy, David Lidington, said the two sides are “almost within touching distance” of a Brexit deal.

Britain wants to seal a deal this fall, so that Parliament has time to vote on it before the UK leaves the bloc on March 29. The European Parliament also has to approve any agreement.

Negotiators have been meeting late into the night in Brussels in a bid to close the remaining gaps.

Trades obstacle

The main obstacle has long been how to ensure there are no customs posts or other checks along the border between the UK’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland after Brexit.

Irish national broadcaster RTE said the draft agreement involves a common customs arrangement for the UK and the EU, to eliminate the need for border checks.

But May faces pressure from pro-Brexit Cabinet members not to agree to an arrangement that binds Britain to EU trade rules indefinitely.

May also faces growing opposition from pro-EU lawmakers, who say her proposed Brexit deal is worse than the status quo and the British public should get a new vote on whether to leave or to stay.

If there is no agreement soon, UK businesses will have to start implementing contingency plans for a “no-deal” Brexit — steps that could include cutting jobs, stockpiling goods and relocating production and services outside Britain.

Even with such measures in place, the British government says leaving the EU without a deal could cause major economic disruption, with gridlock at ports and disruption to supplies of foods, goods and medicines.

What about British citizens?

On Tuesday, the European Commission published a sheaf of notices outlining changes in a host of areas in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

They point to major disruption for people and businesses: UK truckers’ licenses won’t be valid in the EU, British airlines will no longer enjoy traffic rights, and even British mineral water will cease to be recognised as such by the EU.

The EU said on Tuesday it was proposing visa-free travel for UK citizens on short trips, even if there is no deal — but only if Britain reciprocates.

“We need to prepare for all options,” EU Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said. On a deal, he said, “We are not there yet.”

Meanwhile, official figures suggest Brexit is already having an impact on the British workforce.

The Office for National Statistics said the number of EU citizens working in the country — 2.25 million— was down 132,000 in the three months to September from the year before. That’s the largest annual fall since comparable records began in 1997.

Most of the fall is due to fewer workers from eight eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004.

Jonathan Portes, professor of economics at King’s College London, said the prospect of Brexit “has clearly made the UK a much less attractive place for Europeans to live and work.”

Source: TRTWorld and agencies