May’s Brexit deal: the hard road ahead

On Tuesday, Theresa May submitted her plan to withdraw the UK from the EU but there are several hurdles that she must overcome before her plan is approved and a Brexit deal is secured.

Late on Tuesday, UK Prime Minister Theresa May thrashed out a draft agreement outlining the conditions for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, bringing the country a step closer to closure in what has been a torturous Brexit process.

But before the draft agreement is approved and a Brexit deal is ratified it must stand up to scrutiny and gain the support of May’s cabinet, parliament and the British people.

If May fails to garner support for her plan the more likely it is that Britain will bail out of the bloc without a deal in place to secure its future framework with the EU, leaving its economy in a precarious position.

Can May make her cabinet back the deal?

The 500-page agreement that May announced late on Tuesday is likely to come under fire from key cabinet members, including Andrea Leadsom, a hard Brexiteer that is adamant that Britain sever ties with the EU and exit the customs union, a move that would place major restrictions over the country’s future trading relationship member states.

Shortly after announcing the draft agreement, International Development Secretary, Penny Mordaunt, called on May to waive a major Parliamentary convention known as collective ministerial responsibility, which stipulates that cabinet members must publicly support all governmental decisions.

Calling for the suspension of such a cornerstone of the UK political process signals Mordaunt’s disapproval of the plan and indicates how divided the government is on the proposed Brexit plan.

‘Cabinet will meet at 2pm [on Wednesday] to consider the draft agreement the negotiating teams have reached in Brussels, and to decide on next steps,’ a No 10 spokesman confirmed. ‘Cabinet ministers have been invited to read documentation ahead of that meeting.’

If May can convince senior cabinet ministers to vote in favour of her deal, then the next step will be to garner support from Parliament and the British people if she is to retain her position as prime minister.

If not, it could see her suffer a vote of no confidence which will see Tory MPs writing to the 1922 Committee, an influential committee of all backbench Tories, that could spark a leadership contest.

It could also see Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn call for a general election, but the motion is unlikely to succeed as it would require two thirds of the House of Commons to vote for it and Conservatives will block it.

Can May secure support from Brexiteers and the European Research Group (ERG)?

If May can garner support from her cabinet, she must then contend with hard-line Brexiteers in Parliament and the ERG, a pro-Leave research support group for Conservative MPs. The prime minister can expect an uphill battle, with prominent members quick to brandish her Brexit agreement as ‘impossible’ to support.

Mark Francois, a leading member of the ERG told BBC Newsnight that ‘there is absolutely no way that a deal based on Chequers will get through the House of Commons… it is just mathematically impossible’.

Will opposition leaders support May’s plan?

Moments after May announced her Brexit deal, opposition leaders penned a joint letter to the prime minister calling for a ‘meaningful vote’ on the proposal, which will allow them to propose changes to her plan.

‘As a minimum, any motion to this House must include: the possibility for multiple amendments to be tabled, with the Speaker able to select multiple amendments to be taken before the main motion,’ the letter signed by Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and leaders from the Liberal Democrat’s, SNP and Plaid Cymru said.

‘While we recognise parliament will have to approve or disapprove any agreement, it would be reckless to present this vote as take-it-or-leave-it without parliament being able to suggest an alternative.’

The Irish backstop and the DUP

Arguably the biggest threat to May’s Brexit plan is the Irish border issue, with the prime minister looking to put a UK-wide customs backstop in place rather than a hard border arrangement that would threaten peace between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

But the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which the prime minister requires the support of to hold a majority in the Commons is critical of the backstop.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the DUP’s chief whip Jeffrey Donaldson said that the party could not support May’s proposal in its current form.

‘This is not the right Brexit,” Donaldson said. ‘It doesn’t give the United Kingdom as a whole the opportunity to do free trade deals and to take control of its own future.’

‘The problem is that this fundamentally undermines the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom,’ he added.

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