Theresa May’s cabinet will meet on Wednesday to discuss a draft Brexit withdrawal agreement after the text of the UK’s ‘divorce’ was agreed in Brussels.
UK and EU negotiators have agreed draft wording of a ‘backstop’ plan for the Irish border, in a potentially significant breakthrough in the Brexit process.
However, the text must still be approved by Cabinet before being put to the House of Commons. Downing Street confirmed an emergency meeting would take place at 2pm on Wednesday.
The draft addresses contentious issues around the future of the Irish border, which could see it rejected by ministers, members of Theresa May’s party, or her allies in the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
These are understood to include a 'review mechanism' to bring the Irish border backstop to an end. Senior Tories including the Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab have demanded the UK have the right to quit the backstop, which will see the whole UK remain under EU customs rules until the trading relationship between London and Brussels is resolved.
Separate regulations could still be applied to goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK as part of the backstop, a measure that the DUP has said it cannot accept.
Cabinet ministers were summoned to Downing Street individually on Tuesday evening to be briefed on the draft text.
Scottish Secretary David Mundell and the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson have signalled their refusal to accept a withdrawal agreement that includes a new trade barrier in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Both senior Tories wrote to the Prime Minister last month highlighting that “having fought just four years ago to keep our country together, the integrity of our United Kingdom remains the single most important issue for us in these negotiations.”
They said: “Any deal that delivers a differentiated settlement for Northern Ireland beyond the differences that already exist on all Ireland basis (eg Agriculture), or can be brought under the provisions of the Belfast Agreement, would undermine the integrity of our UK internal market and this United Kingdom.
“We could not support any deal that creates a border of any kind in the Irish Sea and undermines the Union or leads to Northern Ireland having a different relationship with the EU than the rest of the UK, beyond what currently exists.”
A spokesman for the Irish deputy prime minister Simon Coveney was quoted as saying: “Negotiations between the EU and UK on a withdrawal agreement are ongoing and have not concluded. Negotiators are still engaged and a number of issues are outstanding."