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EU warns of 'long road ahead' as UK Brexit secretary resigns

François Lenoir, Reuters | EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and European Council President Donald Tusk in Brussels, Belgium, November 15, 2018.

EU Brexit chief Michel Barnier said much work needs to be done to finalise Britain’s exit from the bloc as British Prime Minister Theresa May faced political pressure, including the resignation of the UK’s Brexit Secretary Donald Raab.


The morning after the British cabinet approved a draft exit plan, Barnier formally handed over the 585-page Brexit agreement to European Council President Donald Tusk and welcomed what he called a “fair and balanced” agreement. But, he warned, "Our work is not finished. We still have a long road ahead on both sides."

Accepting the document, Tusk noted that, "If nothing extraordinary happens, we will hold a European Council meeting in order to finalise and formalise the Brexit agreement. It will take place on Sunday, the 25th of November at 9:30am."

Hours later, the fallout of the deal began to hit May’s government as the UK’s Brexit Secretary Donald Raab announced his resignation, saying he could not back the draft deal.

"I cannot reconcile the terms of the proposed deal with the promises we made to the country in our manifesto," he said.

"You deserve a Brexit secretary who can make the case for the deal you are pursuing with conviction.

"I must resign."

Raab, who had been in place since July, resigned less than an hour after Shailesh Vara quit as a junior Northern Ireland minister over the draft accord.

The pound sterling lost nearly one percent of its value against the dollar following Raab's resignation, wiping out gains since Tuesday.

May's governing centre-right Conservative Party -- which does not command a Commons majority -- was already split between Brexiteers and those who wanted to remain in the union, and now many on both sides of that divide oppose her deal.

‘In the best interests’ of the United Kingdom

The reactions came the morning after May declared that she had persuaded her cabinet to back a draft divorce agreement with the EU, a decision that triggers the final steps on the road to Brexit.

"The collective decision of cabinet was that the government should agree the draft withdrawal agreement and the outline political declaration," May said outside her Downing Street office late Wednesday after a five-hour-long meeting she described as "impassioned".

Speaking over protesters shouting anti-Brexit slogans from the end of Downing Street, she said the deal was the best that could be negotiated.

"I firmly believe with my head and my heart that this is a decision in the best interests of the entire United Kingdom," May added.

Plan to avoid 'hard' border

The announcement of the deal on Tuesday prompted a wave of criticism from eurosceptics in May's Conservative party, as well as her Northern Irish allies, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

"I know that there will be difficult days ahead," May said, adding that intense scrutiny of the agreement was "entirely understandable".

"But the choice was this deal, which enables us to take back control and to build a brighter future for our country, or going back to square one with more division, more uncertainty and a failure to deliver on the referendum."

The agreement sees the whole of Britain staying in a customs arrangement with the EU as a "backstop" if the two sides fail to reach a broader agreement within a 21-month transition.

Battle in parliament awaits

If, as is widely expected, the EU backs the deal, May will still have to push it through the British parliament, where her government holds only a razor-thin majority.

Her coalition partners from the DUP have also threatened to vote against the agreement if they find it splinters the province from the rest of Britain.

"If she decides to go against all of that, then there will be consequences," DUP leader Arlene Foster said.

On the other side of the argument, pro-EU legislators say May's deal is worse than the status quo and the British public should get a new vote on whether to leave or to stay.

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn called it a "botched deal".


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