UK Cabinet to meet after Britain, EU reach draft Brexit deal
LONDON (AP) — After months of stalled talks, false starts and setbacks, negotiators from Britain and the European Union struck a proposed divorce deal today to provide for the U.K.'s smooth exit from the bloc.
But the agreement faces major political hurdles starting Wednesday, when British Prime Minister Theresa May will try to win the approval of her divided Cabinet for a deal many ministers view with skepticism.
The British government confirmed that the negotiating teams had reached a draft agreement and the Cabinet would have a special meeting Wednesday afternoon to consider the proposal. Its support isn't guaranteed: May is under pressure from pro-Brexit ministers not to make further concessions to the EU on the key issue of the Irish border.
A spokesman for chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier urged caution, saying a deal wasn't yet finalized and the bloc would "take stock" Wednesday.
Ambassadors from the 27 other EU countries are also due to have a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday.
Britain wants to seal a deal this fall, so that Parliament has time to vote on it before the U.K. leaves the bloc March 29. The European Parliament also has to approve any agreement, as do all 28 EU nations.
Officials have said for weeks that agreement on divorce terms and a framework for future U.K.-EU relations was 95 percent complete, and for several days negotiators have been meeting late into the night in Brussels in a bid to close the remaining gaps.
The main obstacle has long been how to ensure there are no customs posts or other checks along the border between the U.K.'s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland after Brexit.
Britain and the EU agree that there must be barriers that could disrupt businesses and residents on either side of the border and undermine Northern Ireland's hard-won peace process – but they have differed on how to achieve that.
Irish national broadcaster RTE said the draft agreement involves a common customs arrangement for the U.K. and the EU, to eliminate the need for border checks, with special provisions for Northern Ireland and a review mechanism to oversee its functioning.