After a five hour cabinet meeting, Theresa May has – just about — received backing for her 585-page draft Brexit deal. The end of the month is to see a European Council Summit; if this is successful, a Brexit deal might finally be within reach.
Following the meeting with her Cabinet and a tantalisingly long broadcast of the door to number 10, May addressed the press — recognising it her ‘job as Prime Minister to explain the decisions that the Government has taken’. The Prime Minister’s statement insisted that the decision over the draft was not one that has been taken lightly. May asserted confidence in the deal, stating ‘I believe that what I owe to this country is to take decisions that are in the national interests … this is a decision that is in the best interests of our entire united kingdom’.
A done deal?
However, a far from unanimous support from the cabinet is only half the story. There is a strong sentiment within the Conservative Party that this Brexit deal is not in fact in the country’s best interests. Jacob-Rees Mog has referred to May’s draft as a ‘rotten deal’. Much of the Conservative scepticism derives from the concern that the Prime Minister’s deal will keep the UK under EU control for years to come. Hence, there would be no ‘hard Brexit’ and after all the plug lines, we may not ‘take back control’ after all.
Support for the draft is, unsurprisingly, also lacking outside of the Conservative Party. Jeremy Corbyn attacked the draft during Prime Minister’s Questions. The Labour leader relentlessly probed the Prime Minister, attacking the draft for failing to protect jobs and industries. Opposition has also been prominent from Scotland with the SNP leader and Scottish conservatives outwardly expressing concern for the custom union’s effects on the Scottish economy. Lastly, May’s stabilisers, the DUP, have shown contempt for the deal, warning of a possible consequential breakup of the United Kingdom.
Hence, the promise of a done deal being on the horizon should not be held onto too tightly; the deal still needs to be approved in a vote by the House of Commons.
The ‘Brexit Backstop’
As has been the case with all recent Brexit talk, the ‘Brexit Backstop’ has been a key focus in discussions of May’s draft. Both sides have shown a commitment to avoiding a hard border in Ireland. Obvious concern over the peace protest in Ireland if there were to be a hard border again has been dominant in Brexit news in the past few weeks. The backstop is essentially an insurance policy that, regardless of the outcome of Brexit negotiations, there will be no hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Hence, keeping both parts of Ireland within the same custom regulations. May’s deal has now resolved between the UK and the EU that a backstop policy will not be necessary, instead proposing a ‘single customs territory’ so no customs or checks are needed at the border.
So are we almost at the finish line?
Brexit clearly has been a marathon and not a sprint. A deal finally being approved by the Cabinet brings us closer than ever to curtain call on the whole fiasco. However, things are certainly not set in stone. Since the outbreak of the news of the Cabinet’s support, Conservative Brexiteers have threatened a leadership challenge to Ms May and a blocking of the deal by the DUP seems to be on the cards. Thus, if the deal is to make it as far as a vote in the Commons, it is easy to see it not going in the Prime Minister’s favour.