Brexit: What Happens Next? Your No-Nonsense Guide To Today's Political Shambles

Chris York

A lot is happening right now in the UK – a Brexit deal, a host of ministerial resignations, and a Prime Minister in total crisis.

On Thursday morning Theresa May presented her deal on Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union to MPs, saying the draft treaty was not a final agreement, but brings the UK “close to a deal”.

This went down like a rock. The chamber laughed and brayed as May said the deal she had presented to Cabinet would allow the UK to leave “in a smooth and orderly way” on March 29 2019.

All this was happening amid intense speculation about the PM’s political future, as she faces a possible vote of no confidence from Tory MPs. Forty-eight letters sent to the 1922 Committee are needed to instigate a vote, and if a majority of Tory MPs – 158 – then voted in favour, May would have to quit as leader of the party.

This was later set in motion as Jacob Rees-Mogg handed his letter in, saying May’s Brexit deal “has turned out to be worse than anticipated and fails to meet the promises given to the nation by the Prime Minister”.

What’s it all about?

Last night Theresa May published the 585-page proposed Withdrawal Agreement and Outline Political Declaration – which together make up the Brexit deal, and the things everyone’s been waiting for. 

Cabinet ministers approved the draft terms of the agreement with Brussels on Wednesday night in a mammoth five-hour meeting of ministers, but several people around the table are reported to have spoken passionately against the deal.

But the PM maintains it was the “best that could be negotiated” and the choice was her deal, no deal or “no Brexit at all”.

May’s attempt to portray the meeting as harmonious was exposed as it emerged that 11 ministers had raised serious concerns about the agreement. One source said Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab at one point described it as “indefensible”. Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey was very “emotional” during the debate. 

And it’s not gone down well with... well, anyone else really.

So does no one support the deal?

Basically. May needs to win a Commons vote in December on the agreement, but she faces an uphill battle given opposition from Labour, the SNP, the Lib Dems, her Northern Irish DUP allies, as well as Brexiteer and pro-EU Tories.

Labour’s Angela Rayner said the Tories are “literally falling apart before our eyes”.

And it’s the opposition from those in her own party that presents the biggest immediate challenge to May.

If 48 Tory MPs call for a vote of no confidence, then she faces a real possibility of being ousted.

So who’s resigned?

So far the resignation total stands at five including two cabinet ministers – Dominic Raab and Esther McVey.

Raab said he believed the deal “presents a very real threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom”.

He added he could not support a backstop arrangement which the UK could not end without the EU agreeing.

McVey wrote: “The deal you put before the Cabinet yesterday does not honour the result of the referendum. Indeed, it doesn’t meet the you set from the outset of your premiership.”

Northern Ireland Minister, Shailesh Vara, parliamentary private secretary in the Department for Education, Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Brexit minister Suella Braverman have also resigned.

What has May said?

Addressing the Commons on Thursday morning, May paid tribute to Dominic Raab and Esther McVey, who had just left her completely in the lurch. 

She said: “Delivering Brexit involves difficult choices for all of us. We do not agree on all those choices, but I respect their views.”

She added the agreements reached in negotiations on Britain’s future relations with the EU offered a “breadth and depth of co-operation beyond anything the EU has agreed with any other country”.

At a press conference later on Thursday, May delivered a short statement in which she held firm on the deal, and said she wasn’t going anywhere as leader. “Serving in high office is an honour and privilege,” she told a room full of reporters.

“It is also a heavy responsibility – that is true at any time but especially when the stakes are so high.”

The Brexit negotiations are “a matter of the highest consequence”, she said, touching “almost every area of our national life”.

What has the opposition said?

Jeremy Corbyn hit out at May’s “leap in the dark” and warned it cannot be put to Parliament.

The Labour leader also said the Government is in “chaos” after describing the draft withdrawal agreement and the outline political declaration as a “huge and damaging failure”.

So what happens now?

Assuming she survives the next 24 hours, an EU summit has been pencilled in for 25 November to rubber stamp the agreement.

But that is looking more and more unlikely - leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg has submitted a letter of no confidence after he gave a stinging rebuke to May in the Commons.

A vote will be triggered if 48 Tory MPs write letters but it is not known how many he has received so far.

Related...