POLITICS
13/11/2018 23:19 GMT | Updated 14/11/2018 13:56 GMT

Brexit Divorce Deal: Everything You Need To Know On Theresa May's Judgment Day

A nervous 24 hours in Westminster is ahead.

Following months of bickering, brinkmanship and ministerial resignations, the UK may be finally ready to leave the European Union.

But if you thought the revelation, on Tuesday night, that Theresa May has agreed a ‘divorce’ deal with Brussels meant Brexit was done and dusted, think again. 

There are several hurdles the Prime Minister has yet to clear. Here’s where we stand and where we go from here.

So what has actually happened?

After months of sometimes toxic negotiations with Brussels, there has been a major breakthrough.

British and EU officials have agreed a draft text of a deal, more formally referred to as the Withdrawal Agreement.

The Agreement is the blueprint for how the UK will be disentangled from the EU after more than 40 years of membership. Its key issues include the future rights of British expats living on the continent, customs arrangements and avoiding the contentious “hard” border that risks undermining the Northern Irish peace process.

May on Tuesday night called in senior ministers for individual consultations at Downing Street where they were invited to read through documents of hundreds of pages. This was ahead of an emergency Cabinet meeting at 2pm on Wednesday. 

Agreement from her Cabinet on Wednesday afternoon is vital, but that in itself is only stage one 

What’s actually in it?

No-one outside the Cabinet currently knows, but the fall-out surrounds how to deal with Ireland and customs checks.

Brussels has insisted on a “backstop” arrangement as insurance to protect the border while a deal is negotiated. EU proposals for a backstop keeping Northern Ireland inside the European customs area were rejected by May for effectively creating a border in the Irish Sea.

Her counter-proposal of a whole-UK temporary customs union was rebuffed by Brussels over the issue of Britain’s unilateral right to pull out.

It is understood that the draft agreement introduces a review mechanism for ending the arrangement. 

Is the Cabinet certain to give the plan its backing?

Far from it.

The Prime Minister is acutely vulnerable to resignations from her top team which could massively destabilise her position.

Staunch Brexiters in the Cabinet including Liam Fox, Dominic Raab, Andrea Leadsom and Penny Mordaunt must be convinced that the deal would not tie the UK too closely to Brussels, following rules which it has no part in shaping.

Simon Dawson / Reuters
Andrea Leadsom leaving Downing Street on Tuesday night.

Will ministers resign?

It depends. 

Brexiteers are the most likely to walk from the Cabinet. Allies of May fear that if Raab were to quit, however, that his walkout would spark a mass resignation of colleagues.

Other Leavers, such as Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey, may be weighing up their options.

Brexit cheerleader Michael Gove has been unfailingly loyal to the PM since being allowed back into the fold in 2017 as environment secretary. Like many leavers, he is thought to be willing to swallow a customs deal on the basis the UK could further diverge after a transition period.

May’s biggest headache could come from a number of junior ministers and parliamentary private secretaries (PPSs). One told HuffPost last night that the mood was one of “nervousness” that the deal will be “awful”. Asked what Eurosceptics’ red line for resigning was, the broad reply came: “It being a Brexit that we cannot control.”

How have Tory Brexiters reacted?

Badly.

If May gets her Cabinet to swing behind her, the next stage is getting approval from Parliament by staging a vote in the House of Commons before Christmas.

Even though they have yet to read the text of the agreement, Tory Brexiters like Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg fear that a deal could tie the UK indefinitely to Brussels.

Johnson urged his ex-Cabinet colleagues to “chuck it out”, warning that the proposals made a “nonsense of Brexit”.

But Rees-Mogg, chairman of the influential European Research Group of dozens of Tory MPs, went much further - warning May hasn’t “so much struck a deal as surrendered to Brussels” and that the UK “will be a slave state”.

And the DUP?

Not happy either.

The Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) 10 MPs props up May’s minority Government in the House of Commons, and they will challenge anything which treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK. The party has also yet to the see the text, but it has signalled it may not support the plans.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said: “We object to that on constitutional grounds that our laws would be made in Brussels, not in Westminster or Belfast. That is the fundamental red line.” 

Labour too?

Uncertain. If Tory Brexiters rebelled, May would need Jeremy Corbyn’s party’s support.

Labour has said it will oppose any agreement which fails to support jobs and the economy and leader Jeremy Corbyn has already said the draft “is unlikely to be a good deal for the country”. Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer added: “Given the shambolic nature of the negotiations this is unlikely to be a good deal.”

For good measure EU-backing Liberal Democrats and the SNP are expected to vote against the deal. 

What happens if the deal fails to win support in Westminster?

The default position is for the UK to leave the EU on March 29 without a deal, with the potential for chaotic scenes at ports and airports.

However, there would also be huge pressure for a second referendum - what campaigners are calling a“People’s Vote” - to give the public the chance to decide whether it still wanted to go ahead with withdrawal. And Labour would push for a general election to give someone else the opportunity to negotiate a better deal.

May’s own position safe is far from safe.

She could face a vote of no confidence if 48 Tory MPs demand one, with speculation that that number is close to being reached. And her knife-edge control of the House of Commons mean that she risks losing her effective majority and her ability to pass legislation if she alienates more than a handful of her backers. 

Doesn’t Brussels have to agree it too?

Yes.

The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier would have to report to the European Council that “decisive” progress has been made in order for president Donald Tusk to convene a special summit, probably in the last week of November.

At that, leaders of the remaining 27 EU states would be asked to put their stamp on the document. The agreement also has to be ratified by the European Parliament. 

If every obstacle is cleared, the deal would come into effect in time for the UK’s departure on March 29 2019.

But, in reality, we’re not yet at the end of the beginning.