UK Prime Minister Theresa May said cabinet members finally agreed to the draft after a "long, detailed and impassioned debate" that stretched over five hours.
May called the agreement, which spans 585 pages, a “decisive step”. She now needs to secure the support of Parliament to approve the agreement.
Winning over her senior ministers brings Brexit a step closer to finality after two years of intense political infighting but widespread unrest about the exact form of the UK’s exit from the EU continues to simmer.
"I firmly believe with my head and my heart that this is a decision in the best interests of the entire UK"
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) November 14, 2018
Hard Brexiteers have already criticised the deal
“I firmly believe with my head and my heart that this is a decision in the best interests of the entire UK,” May said.
One of the leading advocates for a ‘hard Brexit’, Jacob Rees-Mogg, said it was a “rotten deal”.
“It will have to come to a vote in the House of Commons and if it is what we expect, I will vote against it and I expect many others will,” he said.
“This does not meet either the result of the referendum or indeed the Conservative Party’s manifesto promises which are very important and on which I stood for election.”
May’s former Chief of Staff Nick Timothy also trashed the new agreement as a “capitulation”.
“Worse, it is a capitulation not only to Brussels, but to the fears of the British negotiators themselves, who have shown by their actions that they never believed Brexit can be a success,” he wrote.
One major remaining sticking point is the planned ‘backstop’ which would see the UK remain part of the EU customs union for a transitional period. Hard Brexiteers see this is an unacceptable tie to the EU and an affront to the clean break they seek.
While I hope one day the UK will return, in the meantime this agreement will make a #Brexit possible, while maintaining a close relationship between the EU and UK, a protection of citizens rights and the avoidance of a hard Irish border. pic.twitter.com/ZAS152JNXO
— Guy Verhofstadt (@guyverhofstadt) November 14, 2018
Business bodies, EU leadership react to May’s new Brexit deal
European Parliament Brexit Lead Guy Verhofstadt was more positive, writing that the agreement “will make a Brexit possible” while avoiding a hard Irish border and ensuring an ongoing relationship between the EU and UK.
Business leaders were cautiously optimistic. The Confederation of British Industry said at least the new arrangement would avoid the “nightmare precipice of no deal”.
The City of London Corporation welcomed the “clarity” provided in the new deal though it noted a post-Brexit transition period would be important to allow business to adjust to what is a “complex process”.
Business leaders and hundreds of lawyers had previously written to the Prime Minister, calling for a second Brexit referendum to end the uncertainty once and for all.
As the world’s fifth-largest economy, the UK’s economic future has major global implications.
Header image credit: EU2017EE Estonianian Presidency