Cabinet to consider Brexit deal in special meeting tomorrow

PUBLISHED: 17:19 13 November 2018 | UPDATED: 17:50 13 November 2018

First out of the door?

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A Brexit deal has apparently been reached by negotiators in Brussels and will go before a crunch Cabinet meeting tomorrow.

Downing Street said in a statement: "Cabinet will meet at 2pm tomorrow to consider the draft agreement the negotiating teams have reached in Brussels, and to decide on next steps.

"Cabinet ministers have been invited to read documentation ahead of that meeting."

But Theresa May will need to win the support of her Cabinet.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock arrived at 10 Downing Street shortly after 5pm today.

He was followed shortly after by chief whip Julian Smith and transport secretary Chris Grayling.

None spoke to reporters before they entered the building.

Irish broadcaster RTE reported that a "stable" text had been agreed on the thorny issue of the Northern Irish border.

The broadcaster said the deal involved one overall backstop in the form of a UK-wide customs arrangement, but with deeper provisions for Northern Ireland on customs and regulations.

The developments came after the prime minister told Cabinet this morning that a "small number" of issues remained to be resolved and her de facto deputy David Lidington described a deal as "almost within touching distance".

A spokesman for chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier said the latest in the negotiations had been set out earlier by commission vice president Frans Timmermans who said that while the talks were making progress "we are not there yet".

"The UK cabinet will meet tomorrow. We will take stock at the midday presser," the spokesman said.

The agreement by officials on a draft deal came as:

The government was forced to agree to publish legal advice on the proposed deal

The European Commission said UK citizens should continue to enjoy visa-free travel even in a no-deal scenario, as long as there is a reciprocal arrangement

And former foreign secretary Boris Johnson accused the prime minister of stage-managing delays to the negotiations and a deal will mean "surrender" to Brussels.

Despite UK sources insisting a deal had been done, the Irish government poured cold water on it, saying "nothing has been confirmed".

"We're at a stage where there is still no agreement at this point in time," the spokesman said. "There is actually no agreement."

The spokesman said a "number of issues were outstanding".

He also said the Irish Government's position on the backstop had not changed.

He added that at the moment the reports of a deal were "only speculation".

Scottish Brexit secretary Michael Russell warned the threat of Brexit would not go away even if there was a deal struck.

Russell was heading into talks between the UK nations at the joint ministerial council (JMC) as it emerged a Brexit deal has been reached by negotiators in Brussels and would be the focus of a Cabinet meeting tomorrow.

He said: "I don't know what we will hear from David Lidington and Dominic Raab but quite clearly they're here to discuss a range of issues including what progress they're making and particularly to get some information on that.

"It's not good enough, with respect, to read it in the newspapers. We need to know what's being done and we need to know what is being done in our name.

"Myself and the Welsh representative Mark Drakeford will be making that point forcibly here today as well as the point about the issue of no deal.

"Whatever is resolved that threat will not go away given there are at least three more years of negotiations if there is a deal and under those circumstances we will want to know what preparations there are for that."

Scottish Secretary David Mundell said the potential agreement was "encouraging" but suggested the details could yet stymie agreement.

On his way into the JMC he said: "I think it's encouraging there's a potential agreement.

"Obviously members of the Cabinet are going to have the opportunity to to look at that in detail this evening and there will be a special Cabinet meeting tomorrow to reflect on what's in that documentation.

"I'm encouraged but we need to reflect on that detail and see what's there and hopefully be in a position to take forward a deal.

"That's what the government has been working for all this time, to get a deal, and negotiators have worked incredibly hard to get us to this point but we have to reflect on the detail and consider at Cabinet tomorrow."

Andrew Gray, head of Brexit at PwC, said: "We welcome the news that the negotiations have progressed and a deal seems now to have been reached between the EU and the UK. However there are still a number of hurdles to be jumped before the deal is binding.

"Whilst today's developments have reinforced our optimism that a deal between the EU and the UK is the most likely outcome, we still urge business to continue preparing for both a deal and no deal scenario until the deal is ratified.

"Whilst there is still uncertainty about the exact details of our future relationship with the EU, the emerging political agreement will provide helpful clarity on the boundaries of the relationship, which should allow businesses to progress with medium-term planning for post-Brexit scenarios. We urge businesses to continue to prioritise this."

Labour MP David Lammy tweeted: "Tonight cabinet members will go into Number 10 one by one. Each will have the choice to put their country before their jobs and support a #PeoplesVote. Soon every MP will face a similar decision in Parliament. History will judge the makers of Brexit harshly."

Liz Saville Roberts, Westminster leader of Plaid Cymru, is due to speak at a rally toight supporting a People's Vote.

She is expected to say: "The Westminster government want people to think the only choice is between this 'deal' or no deal, but there is a better way - to reverse the madness of Brexit.

"All recent polls show that as Brexit-reality bites, the people of Wales now favour remaining in the European Union. A People's Vote is the only way to do this.

"This is not a done deal - from the Cabinet to the Commons the prime minister is yet to find support for her proposals.

"If the prime minister is so confident of her offer, she should put it to the people.

"I urge all those opposed to the disaster Brexit will bring, including Labour, to back a People's Vote with an option to stay in the EU. It is the only way we can end the uncertainty over our future relations with the EU."

Labour MP Owen Smith, a champion of the anti-Brexit campaign group Best for Britain, said: "It’s not enough for Theresa May to secure support for her deal from Cabinet, or even from Parliament.

"This deal will dictate the course for our country for generations to come and it must be put to the people for their approval or rejection. And if it's clear that this deal will leave the British people worse off, and our country weaker as a whole, then I am confident the people will reject it as that is not what they voted for."

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