Pound plummets as ministers resign over final Brexit plan

Irving Hamilton
November 15, 2018

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May was fighting for her political survival on Thursday after a draft Brexit agreement with the European Union sparked resignations from her Cabinet - and left furious opponents from within her own party pushing for a change in leadership.

The Conservative leader said she believed with "every fibre of my being" in the Brexit course she had set, hours after facing a hostile parliament and seeing four ministers, including Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, quit the government.

But May insisted that while the negotiations had not been comfortable, it was the best Britain could hope for when it leaves the European Union on March 29.

Asked Thursday evening whether she would fight a confidence vote, May swiped at her critics, saying her draft deal was in the national interest, not her own political interest.

In a defiant statement at 10 Downing Street, May said her Brexit deal - which has attracted intense criticism from all sides - was in the national interest and made it clear that she had no intention of stepping aside.

The choice, she said, was stark: "This deal, which delivers on the vote of the referendum, which brings us back control of our money, laws and borders, ends free movement, protects jobs, security and our union; or leave with no deal; or no Brexit at all".

"Leadership is about taking the right decisions, not the easy ones", May said.

The deal covers citizens' rights, Britain's financial settlement and plans for a post-Brexit transition period during which both sides hope to agree a new trade deal.

"We can and must do better than this".

"The government simply can not put to Parliament this half-baked deal that both the Brexit Secretary and his predecessor have rejected", he said.

A no-deal Brexit could also cause delays at borders, as new customs agreements with nearby countries in Europe would take time to negotiate and implement. The parliament's chief Brexit official, Guy Verhofstadt, welcomed the draft deal as "the best agreement we could obtain". "MPs from across my party will look at that deal and recognise the importance of delivering on the vote of British people".

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn slammed what he called a "botched" and "half-baked" deal, saying it "represents a huge and damaging failure" on the part of a government "in chaos".

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EU Parliament chief Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt echoed the sentiment, saying in a tweet that while he hoped "one day the United Kingdom will return" that "in the meantime this agreement will make a Brexit possible, while maintaining a close relationship between the EU and United Kingdom". "We can choose to leave with no deal".

The departures - several junior ministers have also quit - are a further sign that many supporters of Brexit won't back May in a vote in Parliament on the deal.

TRT World's Simon McGregor-Wood has more.

EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier described the deal in similar terms when speaking to reporters in Brussels.

Britain and the European Union agree that there must be no barriers that could disrupt businesses and residents on either side of the border and undermine Northern Ireland's hard-won peace process.

The solution is meant to be temporary, but pro-Brexit politicians in Britain fear it may become permanent, hampering Britain's ability to strike new trade deals around the world.

"You deserve a Brexit secretary who can make the case for the deal you are pursuing with conviction". The scene made another thing clear: Cabinet approval is only the first step on the draft deal's rather daunting path to adoption.

The backstop arrangement to come into force if a future trade deal does not prevent the return of a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland has always been the main obstacle not only to a deal with the bloc, but to any agreement of her top ministers. DUP leader Arlene Foster said in a statement on Wednesday that the party's "desire for a deal will not be superseded by a willingness to accept any deal".

"That is not something we can support", he told the BBC.

Sophie in t Veld, a Dutch member of the European Parliament who is deputy to the legislature's Brexit chief Guy Verhofstadt, said the real problem during the negotiations "lies within the United Kingdom, within the government, within the Tory party, between the parties, because there has not been any agreement over the relationship with the EU between any of them over the last two years".

"I think she was fed to the lions a bit", he said.

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