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Crucial Brexit meeting begins with UK leader Theresa May under pressure from all sides

Key Points
  • A crucial Cabinet meeting was set to start at 2.00 p.m. London time which could decide the fate of Brexit.
  • U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has to get her most senior ministers and then a majority of Parliament to approve the draft deal between the U.K. and EU.
  • Speculation is mounting that a number of ministers could resign if the deal is viewed as unsatisfactory.
Prime Minister Theresa May leaving 10 Downing Street, London, ahead of Prime Minister's Questions. 
Victoria Jones - PA Images | PA Images | Getty Images

Senior U.K. ministers are busy discussing U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May's plan for Brexit, with speculation that some key lawmakers could resign if they are not happy with the proposals.

A draft deal, which is believed to stretch to more than 500 pages, was signed off by negotiators from both the European Union and U.K. on Tuesday. It will now need the approval of senior lawmakers, and then the whole U.K. Parliament, before it can be put into action.

May began the crucial Cabinet meeting of senior politicians at 2:00 p.m. London time (9:00 a.m. ET) on Wednesday in a bid to persuade her inner circle to back the draft "technical agreement."

Earlier at Prime Minister's Questions, May said that Britain and Northern Ireland was now "significantly closer" to delivering what the U.K. voted for in 2016. The prime minister added that Cabinet would now "decide on the next steps in the national interest."

If May can get her Cabinet's backing, that paves the way for a special summit with the EU dedicated to Brexit at the end of November.

In response the leader of the main opposition party, Jeremy Corbyn, said May had struck a bad deal that would lead to an "indefinite half-way house without any real say" over rules from Brussels.

At the same session, a lawmaker from her own Conservative Party and Brexiteer Peter Bone told May that if her plan gave away too much to Europe, she risked losing the support "of many Conservative MPs (members of Parliament) and millions of voters."

Who might go?

Several senior ministers could potentially quit their ministerial roles if they consider the deal not to their taste.

Dominic Raab has been the U.K. Brexit secretary since David Davis resigned in July. Despite the essence of Raab's role as a deal negotiator for Britain, he has placed himself publicly as a committed leaver of Europe. Were he to go it would mark the departure of two Brexit ministers in five months and would open up the government to further calls of mismanagement.

International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt is heavily tipped by The Telegraph newspaper to resign Wednesday. She has called for a "free vote" on the Brexit deal, setting aside the convention of Cabinet responsibility. The political editor of The Sun newspaper said Wednesday that while Mordaunt wants more assurances on the deal, she probably won't step down.

Esther McVey has been the secretary of state for work and pensions since January 8, 2018. She is another who has repeatedly failed to support May's plan for a softer withdrawal. There is some speculation that McVey would be among a number of candidates to seek the prime minister's job, should May step down.

Michael Gove is seen as the minister that in public is very supportive of May but in private could well be ready to disrupt the Brexit deal if it doesn't go his way. The environment minister is another so-called Brexiteer and is viewed as senior enough to cause the fall of May, should he resign.

Liam Fox is the international trade secretary who previously promised dozens of deals with other countries once Brexit was finalized. He has said the U.K. could "survive" without a free-trade deal with the EU, suggesting he will not accept much in the way of compromise.

Back in Brussels

Meanwhile in Brussels, ambassadors from the remaining 27 EU nations are meeting in the Belgian capital at the same time as the U.K. Cabinet meets back in London. Their agenda includes not only the so-called "technical agreement" but also discussions on a no-deal scenario.

The European Commission — the legislative arm of the EU — has so far refused to comment on the intricacies of the technical agreement.

"We have a duty to report to our 27 member-states that have given us a mandate to negotiate with the United Kingdom," Margaritis Schinas, chief spokesperson for the European Commission, told reporters Wednesday. "I will not go into any details on the substance (of the deal)," he added.

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