Dominic Raab: Restart Brexit talks and say UK won’t be ‘bullied’

Former Brexit secretary says without changes to the deal, Britain should walk away with a ‘clean break.’

Britain should reopen Brexit negotiations with the EU and show that it will not be “blackmailed and bullied,” former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said today in an interview with the Sunday Times.

Raab delivered a devastating critique of Prime Minister Theresa May’s negotiating strategy — one that, until he quit the post on Thursday, he had spent four months implementing.

The prime minister could face a leadership challenge as early as next week amid widespread dissatisfaction in her party about the deal she presented to Cabinet on Wednesday. Raab is a prime contender to stand, alongside fellow Brexiteer and former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

“If we cannot close this deal on reasonable terms we need to be very honest with the country that we will not be bribed and blackmailed or bullied and we will walk away,” said Raab. “I think there is one thing that is missing and that is political will and resolve. I am not sure that message has ever landed.”

“I don’t think we should look like we’re afraid of our own shadow. We need to be going out there and grasping opportunities,” he said.

He said the final straw was hearing news that the EU intended the backstop customs arrangement, which was negotiated to prevent the need for a border in Northern Ireland, to form the basis of the U.K.’s eventual economic relationship with the bloc. POLITICO was first to report that Tuesday night.

Asked if someone on the U.K. side had prevented him from knowing earlier he said, “Yep.” When asked who, he said: “I don’t know. I’ve asked how this change was made and who licensed it and there’s not been a clear answer.”

Raab says London should go back to the negotiating table and demand the U.K. is given a mechanism for withdrawing from the backstop unilaterally. Under the current deal both sides must agree, giving Brussels an effective veto.

If the other side refuse to renegotiate, Raab says Britain should walk away with a “clean break.” At that point he advocates publishing plans to cut taxes and stimulate the economy.

“This isn’t Dunkirk. The short-term risks of disruption can be managed,” he said, referring to the rushed evacuation of British servicemen from wartime France in 1940. “They can’t be eliminated. We need to be honest about that. But far better that than to allow a pretty controlling and manipulative relationship with the EU to become abusive.”

Raab came under fire this month for saying he “hadn’t quite understood” the U.K. reliance on the Dover-Calais trade route.

Raab suggested to the Sunday Times that without the backstop terms, the deal would be acceptable to Brexiteers. “The frustrating thing is we got close to a deal which would have been acceptable,” he says. “It’s clear that we cannot now exit the backstop without the EU exercising a veto and that could be years and years down the line. It’s the worst of all worlds.”

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What’s next in Britain’s Brexit drama

Three scenarios for the unpredictable days ahead in London.

LONDON — What a #(%(&@ mess — and no easy way out of it. 

That’s one indisputable conclusion to draw about British politics after a day like Thursday.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, who won support for her exit the EU from Brussels a day before, saw multiple resignations her top team and an imminent challenge to her leadership with a very public attack from leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg and a vocal string of his supporters.

For all the uncertainty about the future outlook, the scenarios for the coming weeks are easier to sketch out, if not to predict. Here they are in particular order:

1. May clings on

Pool photo by Matt Dunham via Getty Images

Brexiteers have long threatened to challenge May. Now that she has put a draft deal on the table, they have come out of hiding.

Should the hardliners fail to round up the 48 letters needed under Conservative party rules to trigger a vote of no confidence, it’d be a huge embarrassment to the Brexiteer cause, undermining their claims of having the support of 80 MPs in parliament. While there is no time limit dictating when the letters need to be submitted, in reality Brexiteers probably only have a few days capitalize on the crisis caused by May’s draft plan.

If the challenge fails to materialize, that would be a major boost for the prime minister and her whips who are clinging to the hope that the threat of an impending crisis will force MPs to back her divorce agreement with Brussels for Britain to sign up to it.

A failure to trigger a leadership contest does not, however, prevent a parliamentary showdown for May — it delays it. One way or another, the prime minister needs a majority in the House of Commons to back her deal with Brussels before she can formally commit to it in Brussels.

2. May wins the backing of her party

Pool photo by Matt Dunham via Getty Images

Under Tory rules, May could not be challenged for a year after winning a vote of no confidence. The magic number she needs to survive is 159 — 50 percent of the party’s MPs, plus one.

While many Tory MPs argue in private that her position would be untenable should more than 100 MPs vote to remove her as leader, she would be under no formal obligation to step aside. Asked at Thursday’s press conference whether she would fight on even if she won by just one vote she said: “Am I going to see this through? Yes.”

For the prime minister, however, simply staying prime minister only solves part of her problem. Unless there’s a dramatic change in the political mood, she still doesn’t have the numbers to force her deal through parliament.

Privately, some ministers and Tory aides believe May could survive MPs voting down her deal, by sitting tight, allowing market turbulence and the prospect of a cliff-edge Brexit to focus minds to allow her to pass the deal on the second — or third, or fourth — attempt.

This path is fraught with danger, however. While there is a majority in the House of Commons opposed to the prime minister’s plan, she risks a second, but much more serious, motion of no confidence being tabled against her — this time against the government as a whole.

Pool photo by Matt Dunham via Getty Images

As long as Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party remains fiercely opposed to the prime minister’s agreement, the government no longer has a working majority in parliament and is at risk of losing such a vote of no confidence.

If the House of Commons declares it has no confidence in the government, other party leaders have 14 days to try to form a new administration. If that does not succeed, a general election must be held six weeks later. Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn will fancy his chances but without an election he also lacks the numbers for an outright majority.

3. May loses backing of her party

Pool photo by Matt Dunham via Getty Images

If May loses a confidence vote on her leadership among her own MPs, a Conservative leadership contest follows.

Under the usual procedure, candidates require two MPs to back them (one a proposer, the other a seconder). If more than two candidates throw their hats into the ring, the field is whittled down by secret ballots of Conservative MPs held on Tuesdays and Thursdays until only two candidates remain. The wider party membership then votes after a campaign period which usually lasts a few weeks.

Because there are barely more than four months until the U.K.’s legal departure date, it is likely that either the Tory party would need to fast-track the process, or the government would need to request an extension to Brexit negotiations. It’s probably easier to bend Conservative party rules than it is to get a unanimous decision from the EU27 on an extension, so the former scenario seems more likely.

Tory MPs could agree, as they have done in the past, to unite behind a single candidate, obviating the need for a contest. But given the deep divisions in the parliamentary party, it’s hard to see who would command confidence as a unity candidate.

If no-deal looked likely (or was even favored by a new administration), the U.K. and EU would almost certainly try to agree several “mini-deals” to protect vital services.

Assuming the U.K. has a new Conservative leader and new prime minister within a few weeks, it would then be up to them how to proceed with Brussels.

Dominic Raab, the departing Brexit Secretary and certainly one leadership contender, told Sky News on Thursday he would want to see a renegotiation of the Northern Ireland backstop — the aspect of the deal he resigned over.

Tory leadership contests are unpredictable (in 2016 everyone thought Boris Johnson would win and in the end he didn’t even stand). But it’s probable the new prime minister would be more of a Brexit true-believer than Theresa May, given the Euroskeptic tendencies of the Conservative membership who make the final call.

But whether such a figure — be it Boris Johnson, David Davis, Michael Gove, Raab, or any other potential candidate — would have any chance of wrestling a meaningfully different deal out of Brussels looks doubtful. The EU has shown little appetite to shift red lines.

That would bring a no-deal Brexit back into play.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May at 10 Downing Street

If no-deal looked likely (or was even favored by a new administration), the U.K. and EU would almost certainly try to agree several “mini-deals” to protect vital services like air travel over each other’s territory.

But such is the resistance to the idea of no-deal among most British MPs, that in this scenario, there would be a risk, as is the case if May manages to cling on, that the new prime minister would face a vote of no confidence by an alliance of opposition parties and pro-EU Conservative MPs, who would only need to muster a handful of votes to tip the balance and topple the government. Then we could be in general election territory.

Any prime minister is also under a legal obligation (under the EU Withdrawal Act) to lay a motion before MPs informing them that they plan to pursue a “no deal” Brexit. Right now, there is no chance a majority of MPs would back this.

May vows to ‘see this through’ as Brexit deal divides her party

Abandoning the deal would mean ‘deep and grave uncertainty’ for the country, the prime minister said.

LONDON — Theresa May vowed  to”see this through” after a chaotic day in Westminster during which two Cabinet ministers resigned and a handful of prominent Brexiteers said they would bring down her premiership over the draft Brexit deal she negotiated with the EU.

Speaking at a press conference in Downing Street Thursday afternoon, May said that her party and the country should “unite behind” the draft agreement, warning that to step back now would lead to “deep and grave uncertainty” for the country.

Her Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey resigned on Thursday morning, citing dissatisfaction with the deal, which was approved by Cabinet in a five-hour meeting on Wednesday.

Brexiteer Conservative MPs and May’s Northern Irish backers the Democratic Unionist Party expressed fury at the draft text’s provisions for a ‘backstop’ legal guarantee to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland, by keeping the U.K. in a customs union with the EU and requiring Northern Ireland to continue to follow some EU rules.

Senior Brexiteers Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker formally called for a vote of no confidence, submitting letters to the chair of the Conservative party’s 1922 committee. Fifteen percent of the parliamentary party must call for a vote of no confidence to trigger one — 48 MPs.

Asked whether she would fight a vote of confidence, were one triggered, and whether she would carry on even if she won the contest by just one vote, May said: “Am I going to see this through: yes”

Comparing her approach to her favorite cricket player Geoffrey Boycott, she said she liked his style of play because he “stuck to it and he got the runs in the end.”

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EU Confidential episode 73, presented by the Future Europe Podcast: Rose Gottemoeller — Brexit deal — Merkel’s vision

In our just-released episode, Rose Gottemoeller, NATO’s deputy secretary-general, is our main guest. She’s the highest-ranking female official in the history of the military alliance — or, as Gottemoeller herself puts it, “the first …

In our just-released episode, Rose Gottemoeller, NATO’s deputy secretary-general, is our main guest. She’s the highest-ranking female official in the history of the military alliance — or, as Gottemoeller herself puts it, “the first deputy secretary-general of NATO who happens to be a woman.”

Gottemoeller talks about Russia’s turn from the West, and how attitudes to women have changed in the national security world since she began her career in the 1970s — and what needs to happen to change them further.

Our Brussels Brains Trust of Lina Aburous and Alva Finn debate the big stories of the week — Theresa May’s fight for political survival after sealing a Brexit deal, and Angela Merkel’s speech to the European Parliament outlining her vision for the EU.

Brexit cannot be stopped

Europe can help Theresa May get this deal over the finish line.

This is a POLITICO debate. For the counterargument, click here.

Ever since 2013, when David Cameron first mooted the idea of holding a referendum on leaving the European Union, Europe has watched Brexit Britain with wide-eyed incredulity.

Now that a draft Withdrawal Agreement is finally in hand, the mood is changing. Brexit might still be regarded with regret — Germany’s Angela Merkel said Tuesday it would leave a “deep wound” — but it can no longer be denied.

As the Brexit process enters the “endgame,” policymakers and the public on both sides of the Channel need to accept that it’s actually happening. And here, the EU’s role should be clear too: Help get the deal over the line so we can all move on.

In the circumstances, the draft deal on the table is a good one. It does the job of extricating the U.K. from its rights and obligations as an EU member state by March next year. It keeps collateral damage to a minimum. The accompanying political declaration on the future relationship identifies clearly enough where the U.K. will end up — namely in a formal association agreement, which will form the basis for a dynamic new partnership.

The EU should also make clear that it will only deal with the U.K. government — and that there is no other viable government-in-waiting.

But the timetable to conclude all the different elements of Brexit is very tight.

EU leaders are expected to confirm the deal’s terms and flesh out the political declaration at a special summit on November 25. Because of chaotic delays on the British side, the EU27 have not had much chance to reflect on their future without the Brits, and countries that haven’t been paying close attention to negotiations may now raise more queries about the deal. Amid the general climate of nervousness about the EU becoming weaker and smaller, expect last-minute squalls about things like Danish fish. Some will express concern about the EU’s concessions of a U.K.-wide temporary customs arrangement, fearing undercutting by British business.

Still, there is little doubt that the Council will eventually decide to approve the deal — a decision that in any case does not need to be unanimous, but could be carried by 20 countries representing 65 percent of the EU population. The European Parliament is also likely to give the deal its nod of approval, as its key stipulations — regarding citizens’ rights and the need to avoid a hard border in Ireland — were met in the draft deal.

What is true among EU leaders is also true among most MEPs: They see Brexit as a major distraction from other important business and are impatient to move on. Departing British MEPs may be missed on an individual basis but not collectively. Many are debating what will be possible to achieve once the Brits have left.

EU Brexit chief negociator Michel Barnier hands the draft Brexit agreement to European Council President Donald Tusk | Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images

If Europe looks unanimous in its desire to get Brexit over the finish line, the biggest obstacle lies in Westminster, where there is not yet a discernible majority for the critical “meaningful vote” that must approve the deal before the government can introduce it into law.

A dedicated campaign of persuasion is underway on behalf of the government — and here, the EU shouldn’t shy away from lending a helping hand.

The EU institutions stood aside ahead of the 2016 Brexit referendum, allowing all sorts of fake news to develop around the facts of EU membership. It would be a mistake to let the same thing happen again.

The draft agreement is long and technical and, to the untrained eye, unintelligible. The accompanying political declaration is shorter and much more readable, and deserves to be shared and promoted more widely. EU leaders should use it as a script and avoid deviating from it — idle talk in Europe costs votes in Westminster.

Indeed, there’s a strong case to be made it’s a good deal for both parties: The Brexiteers’ main criteria have been met — in that the U.K. is leaving the EU — but there is also a great deal that should appeal to Remainers, including the EU’s insistence on continued respect for EU social and environmental standards, and the proposed customs arrangements.

European leaders should confirm there’ll be no extension of the Article 50 process merely to accommodate a second attempt at the negotiations — with the clock ticking away to March 29, Michel Barnier’s deal is it. This is in Europe’s interest too, as far-right parties across the bloc would make merry at the sight of the U.K. being trapped inside the EU against the expressed popular will of the British voters.

Neither should the EU27 stoke British hopes for a second referendum — it would prolong political uncertainty and cause financial instability.

The EU should also make clear that it will only deal with the U.K. government — and that there is no other viable government-in-waiting. Indeed, the Labour Party’s leadership is in a terrible mess over Brexit.

Some British MPs believe that the House of Commons should take over from the prime minister in late January if she loses her meaningful vote. From Brussels, however, this looks like a fantasy — not least because there is no discernible majority in the Commons for any alternative to May.

The unholy alliance of arch-Brexiteers and ultra-Remainers that could crash the Barnier deal could never produce a set of proposals that would be acceptable to the EU, and the spectacle of May’s Northern Ireland backers — the Democratic Unionist Party — opposing the deal causes special amazement in Brussels. Barnier’s deal keeps Northern Ireland effectively in two customs unions at once. DUP hostility to it would rely on an unusual combination of bigotry and stupidity.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May gives a statement outside 10 Downing Street | Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images

Neither should the EU27 stoke British hopes for a second referendum — it would prolong political uncertainty and cause financial instability without any certainty that the outcome would settle Europe’s British problem one way or the other.

The EU needs to push to get the deal done according to the agreed procedure and schedule. Then we can all try and get down to business, by way of a bit of temporizing and compromise, to build a durable and trustful partnership.

Andrew Duff is president of the Spinelli Group and visiting fellow at the European Policy Centre.

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Brexit can still be stopped

A second referendum is not impossible — Europe should get behind it.

This is a POLITICO debate. For the counterargument, click here.

LONDON —  As Theresa May announced her Cabinet’s collective approval of the withdrawal deal she negotiated with Brussels, she listed three options: her deal, no deal and no Brexit.

It was the first time she acknowledged that not doing Brexit at all is even a possibility. And she couldn’t avoid it, since no Brexit is today — on form at least — the favorite among the choices she offered.

Now I’m not one to promote gambling, but in the three-horse race that is Brexit, anyone fleet of foot enough to get down to the bookies today can still get double-your-money 2-to-1 odds on another referendum at any time in 2019.

Even more astonishing, you can get 5-to-1 odds on a referendum next year resulting in a Remain vote. This is ridiculously good value.

Neither Tory nor Labour Party frontbenchers have the courage to unilaterally back away from Brexit.

Granted, you’d need to act quickly as the potential payoff is shrinking by the day.

May’s deal is being slowly euthanized. If her own survival is unlikely, the death of her deal is guaranteed. There is nothing like a majority for it in parliament, as became clear Thursday when Brexiteer MP Jacob Rees-Mogg — like many, many others on the Conservative benches — stuck his knife in and wandered out of a three-hour session in Parliament to submit his letter of no confidence in May’s leadership.

That leaves us two runners: no deal and no Brexit.

In the fog of posturing and deceit that has shrouded Brexit, two things at least are clear.

Pro-Brexit MP Jacob-Rees Mogg has formally challenged Theresa May’s leadership | Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

First: Parliament is desperate to avoid no deal. The hard core of Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group are practically alone in being comfortable with this.

Second: Neither Tory nor Labour Party frontbenchers have the courage to unilaterally back away from Brexit.

Even if a Conservative Party vote of no confidence replaces May with a hardcore Brexiteer, parliament would find a way to block no deal — unprecedented as that course of action is. (As for anyone still fantasizing about Canada ++ (that’s you Boris), the EU will never accept it. No time, no inclination.)

If May falls and a new Tory leader takes her place, there’ll be no need for a general election, given that May was not removed by parliament but by her party.

Westminster is paralyzed by fear and confusion. Even though Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has managed the almost inconceivable feat of failing to pull ahead of the Tories in the polls, no sane Conservative leader (I know, I know) would take the gamble of calling for a fresh election.

So, the only course left — the one that would make any sense to all sides — is to throw the question back to the people.

Only a fool would predict anything with any certainty in this “Alice in Wonderland” moment of British politics.

Labour would back a vote. Hardcore Tories would back a vote (believing they would prevail). And — crucially — the EU27 would back it, and help find a way to give us the time we’d need beyond March 29, 2019 to make it happen.

This is where the attitude of the EU27 becomes central to the future of Brexit.

EU politicians and policymakers across the board have expressed regret at Britain’s decision, and are likely to consider possibility of the U.K. staying in the bloc as a positive outcome — not least because the country has played a crucial role in pushing back against federalization in the EU.

Here, concerns among some Europeans regarding total freedom of movement, increased federalization in the shape of a European Army and protectionism of the failed euro project could again present Britain a lifeline.

British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves Number 10 Downing Street | Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Encouragement from the EU27 on the validity, and the necessity, of calling a second referendum would show the Brits that the bloc is alive to the wishes of the British people and values democratic processes.

On the flip side, if the EU demonstrates the same aloof disdain for the rational concerns of the British voter, then Leave would — I believe — win another vote.

Only a fool would predict anything with any certainty in this “Alice in Wonderland” moment of British politics. But it would be a mistake to consider the Brexit story already written.

Two years ago, when my newspaper began the campaign for a second referendum, we were accused of howling at the moon. Today, it is more than possible.

And, what’s more, it’s very, very winnable.

Matt Kelly is editor of the New European.

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Theresa May faces hostility on all sides as she fights to save Brexit deal

British prime minister rocked by resignations of two Cabinet ministers as she tries to sell her EU divorce plan.

LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May faced hostility on all sides and an open threat of a leadership challenge from a leading Brexiteer MP, crippling her efforts to sell her Brexit deal to the House of Commons and the wider British public and threatening her grip on power.

The prime minister, who secured Cabinet agreement for the plan on Wednesday evening only for her Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab to resign on Thursday morning, insisted the draft deal was “in the national interest” and that to reject it would take the country back to “square one.”

But only a handful of Conservative MPs spoke up in support, and May was met with fierce opposition from the Labour party, from Brexiteer MPs within her own party and from her Northern Irish backers, the Democratic Unionist Party. Leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg formally called for her to “step aside.”

The prime minister now faces yet another battle for her own political survival as well as a fight to push her deal through the House of Commons, which must approve the agreement before she can formally commit to it in Brussels.

May faces two immediate threats; first the possibility of a leadership challenge from within her own party, which could be triggered if 48 Conservative MPs are prepared to declare they no longer have confidence in the prime minister, and then the MPs’ vote on the deal. With opposition on all sides increasingly vocal, May now faces the most sustained pressure of her premiership and Britain a period of intense uncertainty, with no clear precedent for what happens next in the event that the prime minister cannot retain enough support to drive her Brexit plan through.

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab resigned Thursday morning | Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

The British pound, which had strengthened on news of the deal and Cabinet support on Wednesday, dropped again following Raab’s resignation, reflecting increasing concerns the U.K. could crash out of the EU with no deal at all in March 2019 and such a scenario could prove economically costly for the U.K.

Leadership challenge

Jacob Rees-Mogg, chair of the European Research Group, an organizing committee of Brexiteer MPs, accused the prime minister of breaking her promises on Brexit and asked her to give him a reason not to formally call for a leadership challenge within the Conservative party.

An hour later, Rees-Mogg told a meeting of the ERG in Westminster that he would be writing to Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 committee of Tory MPs, who under Conservative party rules must call a leadership contest if 48 MPs write to him expressing no confidence in May.

In his letter to Brady, Rees-Mogg said it was in the national interest for May to stand aside.

“The draft withdrawal agreement presented to parliament today has turned out to be worse than anticipated and fails to meet the promises given to the nation by the prime minister, either on her own account or on behalf of us all in the Conservative Party Manifesto,” he wrote.

Rees-Mogg commands the support of dozens of MPs as part of the pro-Brexit ERG faction and his threat may be seen as an instruction for others to also write to Brady and trigger a contest.

The ERG’s deputy chairman, Steve Baker, said in a statement: “We’ve tried everything to change policy but not the Prime Minister but it has not worked. It is too late. We need a new leader.”

MP Jacob-Rees Mogg has the support of the pro-Brexit ERG faction in parliament | Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

May was told by another Brexiteer MP, Mark Francois, that it looked “mathematically impossible” for her to get her draft deal through the House of Commons. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn made clear his party would not support it, Brexiteer Conservatives seem ranged against it, and Northern Ireland’s DUP now seem set to reject it.

The Northern Irish party’s Westminster leader Nigel Dodds, in a cutting criticism, said it would be a “waste of time” to explain his objections “since she clearly doesn’t listen.”

Anger at the deal among Conservative Euroskeptics and the DUP centers on plan to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland regardless of the outcome of the future trade negotiation.

The so-called backstop arrangement, which May insisted neither she nor the EU wanted to see come into force, would see the U.K. remain in a de facto customs union, with Northern Ireland continuing to operate under some single market regulations, and therefore under different rules to the U.K. in some sectors.

May appeared to pin her hopes of persuading MPs to back the deal on the promise that the backstop will never be required and that the permanent future relationship between the U.K. and the EU would meet her previous pledges to “take back control” of the U.K.’s borders, laws and spending, while protecting the union and securing “frictionless trade” with the EU.

My deal or no deal

Despite intense pressure, May showed no sign of changing course. During her Commons statement, she ruled out extending the Article 50 negotiating period, or calling for a second referendum. Facing calls from several Labour MPs and from former Remain-supporting MPs in her own party to back another vote, May said she did not want to follow other EU members who she said had ignored the wishes of their voters in previous referendums.

May said there would shortly be “more detail” for MPs on the future relationship.

“I’ve seen on other European issues … other member states of the European Union taking matters back to their populace, having a referendum, the vote has come out against what the EU wanted and effectively there has then been a second vote, a sort of ‘go back and think again’ vote. I don’t think it’s right that we should do that in this country,” she said.

U.K. officials said that the second document published Tuesday, a political statement rather than a legally binding treaty, which outlines both sides’ intentions for the future relationship, was not the final text and that a more detailed document would be agreed in the run-up to a special European Council summit on November 25. May said there would shortly be “more detail” for MPs on the future relationship.

Both former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and former Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey, who both resigned this morning, cited what they called a threat to the union in their resignation letters. Two junior ministers — Brexit minister Suella Braverman and Northern Ireland minister Shailesh Vara — also resigned, as did parliamentary private secretaries Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Ranil Jayawardena.

Tom McTague and Annabelle Dickson contributed reporting.

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Brexiteer calls for leadership challenge to topple Theresa May

Jacob Rees-Mogg leads an 80-strong Euroskeptic caucus in parliament.

LONDON — Theresa May’s future as U.K. prime minister hung by a thread Thursday after leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg formally called for her to “step aside.”

Rees-Mogg, who leads an 80-strong caucus of hard-line Euroskeptics in the U.K. parliament, submitted a letter of no confidence in May’s leadership of the Conservative Party following Wednesday’s publication of a draft Brexit deal between the U.K. and EU.

Just 48 letters of no confidence are needed to trigger a formal vote of confidence in May’s leadership, which she must win by a simple majority to remain prime minister.
In his letter to the chairman of the backbench Conservative Party 1922 committee — the body which overseas Tory leadership elections — Rees-Mogg said it is in the national interest for May to stand aside.

“The draft withdrawal agreement presented to parliament today has turned out to be worse than anticipated and fails to meet the promises given to the nation by the prime minister, either on her own account or on behalf of us all in the Conservative Party Manifesto.”

He added: “Regrettably, this is not the situation, therefore, in accordance with the relevant rules and procedures of the Conservative Party and the 1922 Committee, this is a formal letter of No Confidence in the Leader of the Party, the Rt. Hon. Theresa May.”

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Theresa May’s statement to MPs on the draft Brexit deal

The prime minister said that delivering Brexit involved ‘difficult choices.’

The full prime minister’s statement to the House of Commons on the draft deal negotiated between her government and the EU27. 

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on our negotiations to leave the European Union.

First, I want to pay tribute to my Rt Hon Friends the Members for Esher and Walton and Tatton.

Delivering Brexit involves difficult choices for all of us.

We do not agree on all of those choices but I respect their views and thank them sincerely for all that they have done.

Mr Speaker, yesterday we agreed the provisional terms of our exit from the European Union, set out in the Draft Withdrawal Agreement.

We also agreed the broad terms of our future relationship, in an Outline Political Declaration.

President Juncker has now written to the President of the European Council to recommend that “decisive progress has been made in the negotiations.”

And a special European Council will be called for Sunday 25th November.

This puts us close to a Brexit deal.

Mr Speaker, what we agreed yesterday was not the final deal.

It is a draft treaty that means we will leave the EU in a smooth and orderly way on 29 March 2019 and which sets the framework for a future relationship that delivers in our national interest.

It takes back control of our borders, laws and money.

It protects jobs, security and the integrity of the United Kingdom.

And it delivers in ways that many said could simply not be done.

We were told that we had a binary choice between the model of Norway or the model of Canada. That we could not have a bespoke deal.

But the Outline Political Declaration sets out an arrangement that is better for our country than both of these – a more ambitious free trade agreement than the EU has with any other country.

And we were told we would be treated like any other third country on security co-operation.

But the Outline Political Declaration sets out a breadth and depth of co-operation beyond anything the EU has agreed with any other country.

So let me take the House through the details.

First, on the Withdrawal Agreement, the full legal text has now been agreed in principle.

It sets out the terms on which the UK will leave the EU in 134 days’ time on 29th March 2019.

We have secured the rights of the more than three million EU citizens living in the UK, and around one million UK nationals living in the EU.

We have agreed a time-limited implementation period that ensures businesses only have to plan for one set of changes.

We have agreed Protocols to ensure Gibraltar and the Sovereign Base Areas are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement.

And we have agreed a fair financial settlement – far lower than the figures many mentioned at the start of this process.

Mr Speaker, since the start of this process I have been committed to ensuring that our exit from the EU deals with the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

I believe this issue can best be solved through our future relationship with the EU. But the withdrawal agreement sets out an insurance policy should that new relationship not be ready in time at the end of the implementation period.

I do not pretend that this has been a comfortable process — or that either we or the EU are entirely happy with all of the arrangements that have been included within it.

Of course this is the case — this is an arrangement that we have both said we never want to have to use.

But while some people might pretend otherwise, there is no deal which delivers the Brexit the British people voted for which does not involve this insurance policy.

Not Canada +++. Not Norway for Now. Not our own White Paper.

The EU will not negotiate any future partnership without it.

As the House knows, the original proposal from the EU was not acceptable as it would have meant creating a customs border down the Irish Sea and breaking up the integrity of our United Kingdom.

So last month, I set out for the House the four steps we needed to take.

This is what we have now done and it has seen the EU make a number of concessions towards our position.

First, the EU proposal for a Northern-Ireland only customs solution has been dropped and replaced by a new UK-wide temporary customs arrangement that protects the integrity of our precious Union.

Second, we have created an option for a single time-limited extension of the Implementation Period as an alternative to bringing in the backstop.

As I have said many times, I do not want to extend the Implementation Period and I do not believe we will need to do so. This is about an insurance policy.

But if it happens that at the end of 2020 our future relationship is not quite ready – the UK will be able to make a choice between the UK-wide temporary customs arrangement or a short extension of the Implementation Period.

Third, the Withdrawal Agreement commits both parties to use best endeavours to ensure this insurance policy is never used.

And in the unlikely event that it is needed, if we choose the backstop, the Withdrawal Agreement is explicit that it is temporary and that the Article 50 legal base cannot provide for a permanent relationship. And there is also a mechanism by which the backstop can be terminated.

Finally, we have ensured full continued access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the UK internal market.

Mr Speaker, the Brexit talks are about acting in the national interest – and that means making what I believe to be the right choices, not the easy ones.

I know there are some who have said I should simply rip-up the UK’s commitment to a backstop.

But this would have been an entirely irresponsible course of action.

It would have meant reneging on a promise made to the people of Northern Ireland during the Referendum campaign and afterwards that under no circumstances would Brexit lead to a return to the borders of the past.

And it would have made it impossible to deliver a Withdrawal Agreement.

As Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, I have a responsibility to people in every part of our country and I intend to honour that promise.

Mr Speaker, by resolving this issue, we are now able to move on to finalising the details of an ambitious future partnership.

The Outline Political Declaration we have agreed sets out the basis for these negotiations and we will negotiate intensively ahead of the European Council to turn this into a full future framework.

The Declaration will end free movement once and for all.

Instead we will have our own new, skills-based, immigration system – based not on the country people come from, but on what they can contribute to the UK.

The Declaration agrees the creation of a free trade area for goods, with zero tariffs, no fees, charges or quantitative restrictions across all goods sectors.

No other major advanced economy has such an arrangement with the EU. And at the same time, we will also be free to strike new trade deals with other partners around the world.

We have also reached common ground on a close relationship on services and investment, including financial services which go well beyond WTO commitments.

The Declaration ensures we will be leaving the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy.

So we will decide how best to sustain and support our farms and our environment, and the UK will become an independent coastal state once again.

We have also reached agreement on key elements of our future security partnership to keep our people safe.

This includes swift and effective extradition arrangements as well as arrangements for effective data exchange on Passenger Name Records, DNA, fingerprints and vehicle registration data.

And we have agreed a close and flexible partnership on foreign, security and defence policy.

Mr Speaker, when I first became Prime Minister in 2016 there was no ready-made blueprint for Brexit.

Many people said it could simply not be done.

I have never accepted that. I have been committed day and night to delivering on the result of the referendum and ensuring the UK leaves the EU absolutely and on time.

But I also said at the very start that withdrawing from EU membership after 40 years, and establishing a wholly new relationship that will endure for decades to come, would be complex and require hard work.

I know it’s been a frustrating process – it has forced us to confront some very difficult issues.

But a good Brexit. A Brexit which is in the national interest is possible.

We have persevered and have made a decisive breakthrough.

Once a final deal is agreed, I will bring it to Parliament and I will ask MPs to consider the national interest and give it their backing.

Voting against a deal would take us all back to square one.

It would mean more uncertainty, more division, and a failure to deliver on the decision of the British people that we should leave the EU.

If we get behind a deal, we can bring our country back together and seize the opportunities that lie ahead.

Mr Speaker, the British people want us to get this done. And to get on with addressing the other issues they care about.

Creating more good jobs in every part of the UK and doing more to help families with the cost of living.

Helping our NHS to provide first class care and our schools to give every child a great start in life.

And focusing every ounce of our energy on building a brighter future for our country.

So Mr Speaker, the choice is clear. 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.

A deal that ends free movement; takes back control of our borders, laws and money; delivers a free trade area for goods with zero tariffs; leaves the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy; delivers an independent foreign and defence policy, while retaining the continued security co-operation to keep our people safe; maintains shared commitments to high standard; protects jobs; honours the integrity of our United Kingdom; and delivers the Brexit the British people voted for.

I choose to deliver for the British people.

I choose to do what is in our national interest.

And I commend this Statement to the House.

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Esther McVey latest UK Cabinet minister to resign over Brexit deal

The work and pensions secretary said she could not defend a deal that handed control to the EU.

LONDON — Theresa May’s work and pensions secretary, Esther McVey become the second Cabinet minister to resign Thursday over the prime minister’s draft Brexit deal, saying it would be ‘handing over control’ to the EU.

McVey quit just an hour after Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab’s resignation 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 “I could not look my constituents in the eye” and defend the draft deal.

In her letter to the prime minister, 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.”

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