Under pressure, Prime Minister Theresa May defended her Brexit plan in Parliament as three more ministers resigned. Many wonder if she will be the one representing the UK at EU leaders' summit next week.
UK Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab became the second of Prime Minister Theresa May's Cabinet to resign on Thursday. He followed a minister in the Northern Ireland office and preceded the later resignation of Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey.
"I regret to say that, following the Cabinet meeting yesterday on the Brexit deal, I must resign," Raab said via Twitter. "I cannot in good conscience support the terms proposed for our deal with the EU." The previous Brexit minister, David Davis, resigned in July.
Current environment minister Michael Gove was rumored to have been offered the Brexit minister's post but was later reported to have turned it down.
McVey told the prime minister the deal "does not honor the result of the referendum," and would "trap us in a customs union."
The UK government presented the 585-page withdrawal agreement to Parliament on Thursday, after Prime Minister Theresa May had put the proposal to her Cabinet on Wednesday.
There were reports of dissent against the deal from within May's Cabinet with up to 10 ministers saying they were not happy. Shailesh Vara, a minister in the Northern Ireland office, was the first to quit on Thursday over what he called a "halfway house" agreement.
May faces a challenge getting the deal approved by the House of Commons. Lawmakers have challenged both the deal and her leadership. The prime minister presented the deal in terms of being the only option: "The choice before us is clear," May said after the five-hour Cabinet meeting on Wednesday. "This deal .... or leave with no deal, or no Brexit at all."
Speaking to the House of Commons on Thursday morning, May repeated those comments and asked lawmakers to give the deal their backing.
"I recognise that we have a further stage of negotiation with the European Council and then that deal when finalised ... has to come back to this House," May told the House of Commons.
There were few voices in support of the prime minister in what is being seen as the most significant parliamentary debate in decades.
With only 315 seats in the 650-seat assembly, the Conservatives are short of a parliamentary majority. May depends on the support of Northern Ireland's DUP party with its 10 MPs and the absence of seven Sinn Fein representatives, who do not take up their seats, to win votes in the house. There have been 16 resignations from the government since last November — eight of them related to Brexit.
After the debate, leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg called for a vote of no-confidence in the prime minister.
President of the European Council Donald Tusk announced on Thursday that the planned meeting for EU leaders in Brussels to discuss the draft Brexit agreement reached between the EU and the UK would take place on Sunday, November 25.
"Let me say to our British friends," Tusk wrote on Twitter, "as much as I am sad to see you leave, I will do everything to make this farewell the least painful possible, both for you and for us."
Tusk met the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, in Brussels on Thursday.
Barnier said the agreed text would allow an orderly departure from the bloc for Britain, including a 21-month transition period. He called the deal "fair and balanced." He insisted the new plan to prevent a border on the island of Ireland would be beneficial to the economies of Northern Ireland and Ireland.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Thursday he was "very pleased" with the draft agreement, even if he regretted Brexit. "We will now look carefully with the other member states at the text that has been decided," he wrote on Twitter.
"We want to continue to have as close a relationship as possible with our British friends," Maas stated. "With Brexit, it is important for us that the rules of the internal market are not affected."
"The single market is a key achievement of the European project," he remarked.
Germany's minister for Europe, Michael Roth, repeated on Thursday "we don't want a Brexit. Not at all. It's a lose-lose situation for both the EU and UK. So sad. Yet given the circumstances, a "soft" Brexit and close relations between EU and UK are in our common interest."
jm/msh (AFP, Reuters)