British Prime Minister Theresa May’s already tough task of persuading parliament to approve an agreement on Britain’s exit from the European Union took a hit Thursday as her Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab resigned.
“I cannot in good conscience support the terms proposed for our deal with the EU,” Raab said as he released a statement outlining his opposition to the agreement he helped negotiate.
Raab specifically objected to a key provision setting up a customs union that would eliminate the need for a hard border between Britain’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland while Britain and the EU work on a new trade deal.
He said not having a firm end date for such an arrangement would leave Britain without democratic control over laws governing its own territory, and would “severely prejudice” the future trade talks.
The British pound dropped sharply in value against the U.S. dollar after Raab’s resignation.
Speaking Thursday in parliament, opposition Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn called the draft agreement a “huge and damaging failure.”
He said of Raab’s resignation, “What faith does that give anyone else in this place or in this country?”
May defends deal
May defended the deal, telling lawmakers it would mean Britain would leave the European Union “in a smooth and orderly way.”
“It takes back control of our borders, law and money, it protects jobs, security and the integrity of the United Kingdom, and it delivers in ways that many said simply could not be done,” she said.
May must convince a majority in parliament to approve the agreement, but even before Raab’s resignation there were many critics, in both the camp that favors Britain leaving the EU and among those who would rather Britain remain a member.
She told parliament Thursday that failing to support the deal would only bring more uncertainty and division.
“Voting against the deal will bring us all back to square one,” she said.
May’s negotiation team has sought to keep Britain as close as possible to the EU when it leaves. The pro-Brexit side wants a cleaner break that would give Britain more autonomy over its policies, particularly regarding trade.
Pro-EU lawmakers say the agreement puts Britain in a worse situation than existing policies.
Annmarie Elijah, associate director for the Centre for European Studies at the Australian National University, told VOA the chance of parliamentary approval "does not look promising," and that the difficulties in the Brexit negotiations go all the way back to the 2016 referendum that set the process in motion.
"When the vote actually took place there was very little detail put around what in fact Brexit would look like," Elijah said. "And I think we’re now all paying the price for that in the sense that it is very difficult to know exactly how you can unwind more than 40 years of economic integration across so many public policy sectors and do that in an orderly way."
EU meeting Nov. 25
On the European Union side, there is much less drama in the proceedings.
European Council President Donald Tusk said Thursday that EU leaders would meet November 25 to finalize the Brexit deal.
He made the announcement after talks with EU Brexit chief negotiator Michel Barnier, and Tusk and praised what he said was a deal that limits the damage of Britain leaving the European Union while securing the interests of the remaining member states.
"Since the very beginning, we have had no doubt that Brexit is a lose-lose situation, and that our negotiations are only about damage control," Tusk said.
He laid out a basic timeline of how the European Union will progress toward the November 25 meeting, with EU ambassadors gathering in the coming days to assess the agreement and their government's back home evaluating it next week.
Painless as possible
Tusk said the summit to formalize the deal will go forward "if nothing extraordinary happens."
"Let me say this to our British friends. 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," he said.
The uncertainty on the British side leaves several options for how the situation will play out in the coming months. If Britain’s parliament and EU members agree, then the terms negotiated by the two sides will govern their relations going forward.
If the agreement fails the votes, there could be a so-called "No-deal Brexit," a potentially chaotic ending that would bring divorce without terms on matters such as trade and immigration.
Other outcomes could oust May as prime minister or bring another referendum like the one in 2016.
"When you strip away the detail, the choice before us is clear," May said after the Cabinet meeting. "This deal, which delivers on the vote of the referendum, which brings back control of our money, laws and borders; ends free movement; protects jobs, security and our union; or leave with no deal; or no Brexit at all."