Archive for the ‘British politics’ Category

Theresa May buffeted by resignations over her Brexit deal

LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May faced a slew of resignations from her Cabinet on Thursday in protest at her Brexit deal, complicating her efforts to sell it to the House of Commons and the British public and possibly jeopardizing her hold on office.

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab quit shortly before the prime minister’s statement to MPs, saying he could not support the withdrawal agreement struck with the European Union and approved by Cabinet Wednesday. He was followed by Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey, and then by Suella Braverman, a junior minister at the Department for Exiting the EU.

May defended her deal as being in the “national interest” and said that there was now a “clear choice” before MPs. “We can choose to leave with no deal. We can risk no Brexit at all. Or we can choose to unite and support the best deal that can be negotiated. This deal,” she said.

The prime minister now faces a battle for her political survival as well as a fight to push through her deal. May’s leadership could be challenged if 48 of her own backbenchers put forward letters stating that they no longer have confidence in her. She would then face a leadership contest in which other candidates could challenge her.

If May cannot secure parliamentary backing for her deal, the chances of Britain leaving the EU without a deal would rise dramatically.

The British pound, which had strengthened on news of the deal and Cabinet support on Wednesday night, dropped again in the morning following Raab’s resignation, reflecting concerns about a “no deal” departure from the EU that could prove economically costly for the U.K.

May told MPs there was no plan for Brexit when she came to power and urged the House of Commons to back her draft agreement with Brussels “in the national interest.”

Raab, who is the second occupant of the office to resign this year, after David Davis’ departure in July, said he “cannot in good conscience support the terms proposed for our deal with the EU.”

In his resignation letter to the prime minister, Raab said he was concerned the regulatory regime for Northern Ireland proposed under the “backstop” guarantee for avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland represented “a very real threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom.”

He added that he could not support an “indefinite” backstop arrangement.

Raab had been known to favor a unilateral mechanism for the U.K. to leave the backstop — a provision which was not included in the draft withdrawal agreement published on Wednesday.

McVey quit just an hour after Raab and was swiftly followed by Suella Braverman, a junior minister at the Department for Exiting the EU. Braverman, who is a former head of the European Research Group of backbench Brexiteer MPs, tweeted she looked forward to “working to support Brexit from the backbenches.”

In her letter to the prime minister, McVey, a longstanding Brexit supporter, accused May of putting a deal to Cabinet that “does not honor the result of the [2016 EU] referendum.”

Ministers reached a “collective” decision to approve a draft Brexit agreement with Brussels after five-hour meeting on Wednesday. McVey is reported to have spoken out strongly against the plan.

“The proposals put before Cabinet, which will soon be judged by the entire country, means [sic] handing over around £39 billion to the EU without anything in return,” she wrote. “It will trap us in a customs union, despite you specifically promising the British people we would not be.”

McVey said “I could not look my constituents in the eye” and defend the draft deal.

In her resignation letter, Braverman said that the negotiations had been an “uncomfortable journey.”

“Throughout this process, I have compromised. I have put pragmatism ahead of idealism and understand that concessions are necessary in a negotiation,” she said. “However I have reached a point where I feel that these concessions do not respect the will of the people.”

Shailesh Vara, a junior minister responsible for Northern Ireland , also resigned.

Vara said in his resignation letter that the draft withdrawal agreement doesn’t deliver on the promises made to voters, and “leaves the U.K. in a half-way house with no time limit on when we will finally be a sovereign state.”

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, a parliamentary private secretary in the education department also quit the government.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said in response to the prime minister’s statement that the agreement was a “botched deal” and the government is offering a “false choice” to the country. He called on May to withdraw the deal.

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Donald Tusk confirms November 25 Brexit summit

European Union leaders will meet November 25 to finalize the draft Brexit agreement struck by EU and U.K. negotiators, European Council President Donald Tusk said Thursday.

Speaking at a press conference alongside the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, Tusk said the draft deal, agreed Wednesday, is currently being analyzed by all EU countries, with EU27 ambassadors due to meet by the end of the week to discuss it.

“If I weren’t confident that you did your best to protect the interests of the 27, and I am familiar with the essence of the document, I would not propose to formalize this deal,” Tusk told the EU’s chief negotiator.

Barnier, for his part, noted: “Our work is not finished. We still have a long road, a long road, ahead of us on both sides.” The EU’s negotiator said he would now work with EU countries and the European Parliament on the text of the political declaration on the future relationship with the U.K., adding: “This work will be intense.”

Tusk said EU27 ambassadors, along with European ministers, would by the end of this week discuss the mandate for the European Commission to finalize the joint political declaration about the future relations between the EU and the U.K., with the Commission intending to agree on the declaration by Tuesday.

“If nothing extraordinary happens,” Tusk said, a European Council meeting to finalize and formalize the Brexit agreement will take place on Sunday, November 25 at 9:30 a.m.

Tusk finished with a message to Britain: “As much as I am sad to see you leave, I will do everything to make this farewell the least painful possible, both for you and for us.”

Fog of Brexit war can’t hide Brussels’ win

LONDON — Brussels is happy. Westminster is in chaos.

After 18 months of fractious negotiations, the U.K. prime minister squeaked her Brexit deal through her divided top team Wednesday and now faces yet another struggle to survive, let alone steer the deal through an angry parliament that must sign off the divorce treaty in the coming weeks.

Theresa May’s fate now rests on her ability to win support for the deal from the public and parliament — both of which remain deeply cynical about the agreement. With the Brexiteer wing of her party increasingly hostile, May is relying on the support of moderate backbench Conservative MPs — and the Labour Party — to get her deal through parliament, and neither on Wednesday appeared willing to come to her aid.

In Brussels, chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier hailed “decisive progress,” a signal to European Council President Donald Tusk to call a special summit of EU leaders later this month in order to formally approve the agreement.

Underneath the obfuscating political fog sits a 585-page draft international treaty that protects the EU’s economic interests and inches it closer to its long-term political objectives, while leaving the U.K. as boxed in as ever by its own red lines. The central choices of Brexit remain, delayed but starkly unavoidable as the U.K. looks to begin negotiations to settle its future relationship with the European Union.

Negotiations weren’t all one-way traffic. To reach a Brexit deal that stands even a chance of being agreed by British MPs, the EU bent its negotiating guidelines, offered significant concessions and blurred the legal limits of what the bloc’s leaders said is possible.

Senior government officials on Wednesday night trumpeted a series of mini diplomatic victories in key areas of the Withdrawal Agreement — from the limited role of the European Court of Justice to the removal of the EU’s proposed solution for the Irish border, which had originally envisaged Northern Ireland being “annexed” into the EU’s customs territory.

The document setting out the bare bones of what the U.K.’s future relationship with the EU will look like — published alongside the Withdrawal Agreement Wednesday — also holds out the prospect of the closest of close trade deals, going beyond any other EU agreement, but without the U.K. accepting free movement.

Even senior officials in Westminster and in Brussels expressed little doubt which side has emerged strongest.

Irish conundrum

Downing Street’s officials say the key to winning public support for the Brexit deal is to show that it takes back control of “the two Ms” — money and (free) movement. After the 21-month transition period, May’s deal does this, they were keen to stress.

For the U.K., the toughest decision of all — whether to jettison Northern Ireland into the EU’s regulatory orbit or for the U.K. as a whole to become a permanent, rule-taking member of an EU customs union — has been kicked into the transition period. That transition itself can now be extended beyond the originally envisaged 21 months, for a period as yet undecided.

For the EU, its four freedoms are intact, tariff-free trade with the U.K. is protected, the City of London is not granted special treatment — and the long-term goal of a customs union with the U.K. that is under its control is still very much on the table.

Until the Irish border is resolved, the U.K. has agreed to remain in a temporary customs union with the EU. This will remain until a new customs “arrangement” can be agreed, which will be based on the temporary setup in the divorce deal. Brussels’ line is blood red, the U.K.’s barely pink.

On top of this, until such a permanent customs arrangement is found, Northern Ireland risks being siphoned off into a separate regulatory environment to the rest of the U.K., taking rules made in Brussels on VAT, agriculture, environment and state aid without any say in shaping those rules — under the EU’s proposed “backstop” solution. The U.K. will only be able to leave this arrangement with the EU’s consent.

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster | Neil Hall/EPA-EFE

The Democratic Unionist Party — whose MPs prop up May’s government in Westminster — has dismissed the agreement as a capitulation.

Speaking in Westminster Wednesday, the party’s leader Arlene Foster said: “There were solutions out there, but unfortunately that was not the attitude which came from the Irish government or the European Union either. If she [Theresa May] decides to go against herself, then there will be consequences, of course there will be consequences.”

In her statement outside No. 10, May admitted the Northern Ireland compromises were the most difficult. “The choices before us were difficult, particularly in relation to the Northern Ireland backstop,” she said. “But the collective decision of Cabinet was that the government should agree the draft Withdrawal Agreement and the outline political declaration — this is a decisive step which enables us to move on and finalize the deal in the days ahead. These decisions were not taken lightly but I believe it is a decision that is firmly in the national interest.”

‘Snowball’s chance in hell’

Without the DUP’s votes, May does not have a majority in parliament. But it is not just the DUP that is angry.

Taken together, the compromises, contradictions and sleights of hand in the document amount to a particularly bitter pill for many across British politics to swallow — and even if it is digested, MPs and officials fear it may poison the system for years to come as the battle moves on to what the future relationship will look like.

One Conservative MP, former chairman of the foreign affairs committee Crispin Blunt, said the agreement stands “a snowball’s chance in hell of passing the House of Commons.”

May’s former chief of staff Nick Timothy also attacked his former boss. In a column in the Telegraph he wrote: “The proposal presented to Cabinet is a capitulation. Worse, it is a capitulation not only to Brussels, but to the fears of the British negotiators themselves, who have shown by their actions that they never believed Brexit can be a success. This includes, I say with the heaviest of hearts, the prime minister.”

Asked whether Theresa May would be prime minister when Britain left the EU in March, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “I wouldn’t put money on that.”

During Wednesday’s volatile five-hour Cabinet meeting, nine ministers spoke out against the deal, according to two special advisers with knowledge of the discussion. In her statement following the meeting, May could only say the deal had been reached “collectively” — code for “not unanimously.”

May does not need unanimity in parliament but she will struggle even for a majority.

One government minister close to May, asked how the numbers looked, replied simply: “Bumpy.” The prime minister will hope it’s that good.

Ryan Heath contributed reporting.

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Theresa May faces battle to persuade voters to back her Brexit deal

LONDON — Theresa May faces the fight of her political career to persuade a deeply skeptical public that her proposed Brexit deal is right for the country.

With Cabinet approval for the draft Brexit withdrawal deal agreed after a marathon five-hour meeting on Wednesday and the EU preparing to trigger a special Brexit summit to sign off on the text, attention will quickly turn to the prime minister’s battle to sell the deal at home.

But according to snap polling for POLITICO by Hanbury Strategy, carried out in the hours after Cabinet’s decision was announced last night, the public’s first impressions of May’s deal are negative.

Forty-five percent of those polled believe, given what they have heard about the deal, that parliament should reject it. Only 28 percent want MPs to back it, and 27 percent don’t know, according to the poll of 505 people.

The snap polling took place shortly after Cabinet approved the draft deal, and the U.K. and EU published the joint text, so it illustrates where public opinion is starting from rather than a detailed response to the deal itself.

But after weeks of political debate about the likely contents of the agreement, it is clear that the public currently sees it in a negative light.

Asked to choose between backing the deal in order to get on with Brexit, another referendum, or leaving the EU without a deal at all, just 29 percent said MPs should back the deal compared to 33 percent who favor some kind of second referendum and 27 percent who backed no deal.

May for PM

With May facing the threat of a potentially imminent leadership challenge from within her party, voters are evenly split on the fate of the prime minister. Forty-four percent said someone else should takeover, with 41 percent backing her, while 45 percent said now is not the time for a Conservative leadership challenge, compared to 40 percent who said it is.

However, not all the findings make grim reading for May. The prime minister is the clear favorite when voters were presented with a list of possible Conservative rivals — 24 percent think May is the best prime minister to oversee Brexit, compared to 13 percent for Boris Johnson, 8 percent for Jacob Rees-Mogg, 5 percent for Jeremy Hunt and 3 percent for Michael Gove.

Theresa May is also favored, by 33 to 21, over Boris Johnson in a runoff between the two for prime minister (though both lagged behind “none of the above” on 46 percent.)

Three-way split

Voters are also split on what should happen next, with a strongly pro-Brexit faction pushing for a clean break from the EU, a strongly anti-Brexit faction determined to secure a second referendum on membership, and another third of people apparently caught somewhere in between.

How this latter group comes to view May’s deal could prove critical to her fate as she seeks to persuade wavering MPs on both sides of the House of Commons that her plan is good for their constituents.

When asked to pick which of four statements best reflects their view of the deal, 29 percent of respondents to the poll agree with May’s Brexiteer rivals that the deal is a “betrayal of the referendum result.”

Ranged against this view, 27 percent agree with the argument of the People’s Vote campaign that the deal leaves the U.K. worse off than membership of the EU and “we would be better off not leaving at all.”

However, 15 percent agree the agreement is “the only deal in town and the best we’re going to get” and another 15 percent think it is “in the national interest.”

When asked what should happen if parliament rejects the deal, 32 percent think the U.K. should leave the EU without a deal, 22 percent said the U.K. should stay, and 14 percent favor a second referendum on membership of the EU. Eleven percent want a “deal or no deal” referendum, and just 11 percent back the preferred option of the Labour opposition: a general election.

10 things you need to know about the Brexit deal

Now it’s down to the details.

The 585-page draft agreement between Brussels and London will become the legal basis for Britain’s departure from the European Union — if it is agreed by EU27 leaders, then ratified by the U.K. parliament and the European Parliament.

Alongside the Withdrawal Agreement, the U.K. and the EU have also published a non-legally binding outline political agreement on their future relationship.

Together the documents are the result of a year and a half of intense negotiation covering nearly every aspect of the U.K.-EU relationship. But will they be enough to persuade key players to back them?

Here’s what the deal says — and what it means — in 10 key areas.

1. The transition period

Quote: “Notwithstanding Article 126, the Joint Committee may, before 1 July 2020, adopt a single decision extending the transition period up to [31 December 20XX].”

What does it mean? On the face of it, a potentially never-ending transition. But U.K. officials insist there will be a later agreement setting a limit on how long this stand-still period could be extended for — and that it could be only a matter of months.

The transition period, during which time all EU rules still apply to the U.K. even though it won’t have a say in setting them, is currently set to last until December 2020. May first floated the idea of extending it at October’s European Council. U.K. officials see that as a way to avoid the “backstop” to prevent a hard Irish border ever having to come into force. We now know that if they want to exercise this option, they’d have to alert the EU by July 2020.

How will it land? Not very well with Brexiteers, who consider the transition period to be a form of “vassalage.” Businesses will be pleased, however. A transition period — however long it ends up lasting — essentially keeps things the same and gives them time to prepare for whatever comes next. Confederation of British Industry director-general Carolyn Fairbairn said the transition had “long been firms’ top priority.” “Time is now up. This deal is a compromise, including for business, but it offers that essential transitional period as a step back from the cliff-edge,” she said.

2. The backstop (customs)

Quote: “A single customs territory between the [EU] and the [U.K.] shall be established.”

What does it mean? Theresa May persuaded the EU to base the backstop on her proposal of a de facto customs union that will apply until negotiators have come up with a permanent alternative.

How will it land? Pretty dreadfully with Brexiteers, who will fear that, if the backstop comes into force, it could bind the U.K. indefinitely to the EU’s external tariff and other aspects of the customs union, which effectively neuter the U.K.’s ability to be a flexible negotiator of trade agreements with non-EU countries — for many Brexiteers the key upside of leaving.

3. The backstop (rules)

Quote: “This Protocol is based on … maintaining full alignment with those rules of the [EU’s] internal market and the customs union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement, to apply unless and until an alternative arrangement implementing another scenario is agreed.”

What does it mean? Apart from the single customs territory, other aspects of the backstop remain similar to those proposed by the EU back in March. Northern Ireland will be under different regulations in many areas to the rest of the U.K. What this means in practical terms is spelled out in the European Commission’s factsheet on the backstop: more checks at ports on trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. While checks on industrial goods “can mostly take place in the market or at traders’ premises by the relevant authorities,” the factsheet says, those on agricultural products and livestock have to happen at ports. “Already existing checks at ports and airports will need to continue, but will be increased in scale in order to protect the EU’s Single Market, its consumers and animal health,” the factsheet says.

How will it land? Awfully, at least with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), who prop up May’s government. Ensuring that Northern Ireland could never be treated differently to the rest of the U.K. — even if it is only a backstop proposal — has been their key demand throughout this process.

4. The backstop review mechanism

Quote: “If … [the EU] and [the U.K.] decide jointly within the Joint Committee that the Protocol, in whole or in part, is no longer necessary to achieve its objectives, the [backstop] shall cease to apply, in whole or in part.”

What does it mean? The question of whether the U.K. would have the right to unilaterally escape from the backstop (referred to here as the “Protocol”) arrangement (if it comes into force) became a major bone of contention in the closing weeks of the talks. At the October European Council, May conceded that the backstop could not have a hard time limit, and since then the U.K. government has pursued a “mechanism” by which it can prove to Brexiteers and unionists in Northern Ireland that there is nevertheless a way out of the backstop. This is that mechanism.

How will it land? Many Brexiteers and the DUP will be disappointed that any semblance of unilateral U.K. power to get out of the backstop arrangement is gone. But the Irish government would not have countenanced a backstop that the U.K. could have blown up at any moment. They wanted firmer guarantees. It’s their win.

5. Governance

Quote: “A Joint Committee, comprising representatives of the [EU] and of the [U.K.], is hereby established. … The Joint Committee shall … establish a list of 25 persons who are willing and able to serve as members of an arbitration panel.”

What does it mean? This is a complicated bit, relating to how disputes between the U.K. and the EU will be settled. First, the Withdrawal Agreement sets up a joint committee to oversee its implementation. This joint committee will put forward 25 people — 10 proposed by the U.K., 10 by the EU and five by both sides to serve on arbitration panels to deal with disputes. They will be people “whose independence is beyond doubt, who possess the qualifications required for appointment to the highest judicial office in their respective countries.” However, the European Court of Justice could still have a role if the dispute involved an aspect of EU law that needed interpreting. That would be the ECJ’s job.

How will it land? Brexiteer MPs will probably be disappointed by the continuing, indirect link to the ECJ, but other government critics might be impressed by the innovative solution to a thorny problem.

6. Citizens’ rights

Quote: “As part of the future relationship with the EU, the UK will also seek to secure onward movement opportunities for UK nationals in the EU who are covered by the citizens’ rights agreement.”

What does it mean? Kicking the can down the road. Granting the right to “onward movement” for British citizens residing in EU27 countries has been a loose end in negotiations about citizens’ rights and a bone of contention for Brits living across Europe. As things stand, Brussels is not allowing Brits who remain in an EU country after Brexit to retain the right to move to another EU country. The U.K. said it would fight their corner, but appears to have given up on that battle — or at least postponed it until later.

How will it land? Not very well with U.K. citizens living across the EU27 or the European Parliament. The Parliament’s Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt has backed the U.K. on this issue.

7. Financial services

Quote: “Commitments to preserving financial stability, market integrity, investor protection and fair competition, while respecting the Parties’ regulatory and decision-making autonomy, and their ability to take equivalence decisions in their own interest.”

What does it mean? Not a lot. After Brexit, access for financial service companies to the single market will be via the EU’s equivalence framework — which allows access to certain services on the basis that rules in a country outside the bloc are similar enough to those inside. The U.K. government has said the framework is inadequate, because it is limited in scope — for example, commercial banking isn’t covered — and the EU can withdraw access with just 30 days’ notice. London suggested in its Brexit white paper a bilateral deal on top of the equivalence framework that would require a consultation process if either party wanted to withdraw an access decision. The outline political declaration, which sets a direction of travel for future negotiations, goes nowhere near that far — it only vaguely suggests a plan to have a “close and structured” cooperation.

How will it land? Probably not very well with the U.K. financial sector. The EU clearly won out on the wording, of which there isn’t much in this “outline” document. A sector that in 2017 contributed £119 billion to the U.K. economy, or 6.5 percent of total economic output, got a total of 115 words. There is a huge emphasis on autonomy to make decisions regarding access — it’s mentioned in four different ways in just three paragraphs. Meanwhile, in return the U.K. got very little — this agreement in no way provides clarity on whether the EU is game for the kind of bilateral deal the U.K. government called for in its white paper.

8. Geographical indicators

Quote: “[T]hose persons who are entitled to use the geographical indication, the designation of origin, the traditional speciality guaranteed or the traditional term … shall be entitled, as from the end of the transition period, without any re-examination, to use the geographical indication, the designation of origin, the traditional speciality guaranteed or the traditional term … in the United Kingdom, which shall be granted at least the same level of protection under the law of the United Kingdom as under … provisions of Union law.”

What does it mean?  The deal essentially buys food producers whose names are protected under EU law more time. The likes of Italy’s Parmigiano-Reggiano, France’s Roquefort cheese and Britain’s Welsh lamb, will all be recognized in both the U.K. and the EU27 beyond the end of the stand-still transition period and until the future economic relationship comes into effect (however long that ends up being).

How will it land? Gourmet food producers on both sides of the Channel have worried they would lose lucrative protections after the U.K. left the EU. This deal will be praised by the industry as it ensures the status quo remains in place for potentially years longer than the existing 21-month transition period. Indeed, British so-called Geographical Indications (GIs) such as Scotch Whisky benefit from the numerous trade deals in which EU GIs are protected to sell all over the globe. This will still have to be renegotiated in the future should the U.K. make new deals with other countries. This result is a long way from what the U.K. had proposed in its Brexit white paper in July. It had suggested that the U.K. set up its own system of GIs to which EU food names could apply to join. The EU hated that idea and the U.K. has backed down.

The U.K.’s Food and Drink Federation said Wednesday that food and drink manufacturers “will have to continue planning for a variety of scenarios until our politicians have cast their judgement on the suitability of this deal.” A no-deal Brexit would mean GI protections no longer apply in each others’ markets from March next year.

9. Gibraltar

Quotes: “The Protocol on Gibraltar, with the exception of Article 1 thereof, shall cease to apply at the end of the transition period.”
“Union law on air transport which did not apply to the Gibraltar airport before 30 March 2019 shall only become applicable to the Gibraltar airport … upon notification by the United Kingdom and Spain that they have reached a satisfactory agreement on the use of the Gibraltar airport.”
“The international standards of the Group of Twenty (G20) and of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) relating to good fiscal governance … shall be complied with in Gibraltar.”
“The United Kingdom shall ensure that its ratification of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control … is extended to Gibraltar by 30 June 2020.”

What does it mean? Contrary to the protocols on Northern Ireland and Cyprus — designed to be implemented after the transition period — the one on Gibraltar is designed to apply only during the transition period, meaning that Madrid is aiming for a better deal on the Rock afterwards. Gibraltar airport will be banned from enjoying air transport agreements negotiated between the EU and the U.K. unless Madrid agrees to it, which gives Spain increased leverage for pushing for joint operation of the airport during the transition period. The protocol also forces Gibraltar into international mechanisms for tax transparency and tobacco control and guarantees citizens’ rights in line with those granted between the EU and the U.K.

How will it land? Madrid can’t claim to have obtained many concessions from the British, but it looks that it will be in a stronger position in the future. The protocol is good news for Gibraltarian and Spanish citizens living in the area. Their daily lives will go on as usual as regards the frontier — and Spanish citizens inside Gibraltar are granted equal rights to locals.

10. Fish

Quote: “Fishery and aquaculture products, as set out in Annex I to Regulation (EU) 1379/2013 (“fishery and aquaculture products”), shall not be covered by the rules set out in Annexes 2 and 4, as well as the rules referred to in the fourth subparagraph, unless an agreement on access to waters and fishing opportunities is applicable between the Union and the United Kingdom. In accordance with Article 184 of the Withdrawal Agreement, the Union and the United Kingdom shall use their best endeavours to conclude and ratify such an agreement before 1 July 2020.”

What does it mean? Fisheries have been left out of the backstop. While current rules and privileges will remain in place during the transition, fisheries will not form a part of the Single Customs Territory — an arrangement that will apply from the end of the transition period if a new arrangement is not ready to come into force. That means that while that backstop customs arrangement is in place the U.K. will not have the right to sell fish free of quotas and tariffs into the EU. Likewise, EU-flagged vessels will not have the right to fish in U.K. waters. The intention is to work out an agreement on access to waters and access to markets during the transition.

How will it land? There had been reports in recent weeks that the EU wanted access to waters for its fishermen as a price for a temporary customs arrangement. With an exit from the Common Fisheries Policy such a key red line for Scottish Tories, fending off that EU demand is a key short-term win for the U.K. But by kicking the can down the road, it will have a tricky trade-off to make in future talks — blocking access to U.K. waters may mean not being able to sell fish to the EU27.

Annabelle Dickson, Catherine Contiguglia, Lili Bayer, Diego Torres, Simon Marks, Emma Anderson and Emmet Livingstone contributed reporting.

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UK Cabinet approves draft Brexit deal

LONDON — Theresa May’s Cabinet agreed to support a draft Brexit withdrawal agreement after a five-hour meeting in Downing Street.

Speaking immediately after the meeting on Wednesday evening, the prime minister said the Cabinet had held a “long detailed and impassioned debate” on the draft withdrawal agreement and an outline political declaration on the future relationship between the U.K. and the EU.

May said the documents were the result of “thousands of hours” of work by officials and negotiators. She said that the Cabinet had reached a “collective decision” to agree the terms, but that she expected “difficult days ahead” and “intense scrutiny” of the draft deal.

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Brexit deal: Live blog

It’s crunch time for Theresa May as her Cabinet meets Wednesday evening to discuss whether to approve the draft Brexit deal drawn up by U.K. and EU negotiators.

Scroll down for the latest updates.

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