Theresa May faces the most dangerous moment of her premiership on Wednesday as she challenges her divided cabinet to back a draft Brexit treaty and attempts to face down Conservative Eurosceptics.
The historic cabinet meeting comes after negotiators in Brussels ended months of talks by agreeing Britain’s terms for leaving the EU. Mrs May now has to sell it to her cabinet and parliament.
Even before they had seen the final text, which runs to more than 400 pages, Tory Brexiters and the Democratic Unionist party, which props up Mrs May’s government, denounced the expected deal and warned that they would vote it down.
But pro-Europeans in the cabinet on Tuesday night said they were “optimistic” Mrs May could face down her critics, paving the way for a special European Council meeting on November 25 to ratify Britain’s exit terms.
Downing Street confirmed that a “draft agreement” had been reached in Brussels and that the cabinet would meet at 2pm on Wednesday. The withdrawal accord, struck more than two years after the referendum vote to end four decades of EU membership, sparked a frenzied round of political activity in London as Mrs May prepared the ground for the crucial cabinet meeting. [...]
Ministers were summoned individually into Downing Street on Tuesday night to be briefed on the terms of the treaty, including the controversial provisions to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland, and the outline of the political declaration covering future UK/EU relations. Ratification of the accord would allow the UK a smooth departure from the EU on March 29, avoiding a disruptive “no deal” exit and paving the way for further negotiations on the final relationship during a 20-month transition period.
Business leaders were also being invited to Downing Street on Wednesday, as Mrs May prepared to unleash an intensive lobbying operation in support of a deal. [...]
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