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Cabinet to consider Brexit deal in special meeting today

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab waits to gain entry into Downing Street, London, ahead of a meeting. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday November 13, 2018. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Victora Jones/PA Wire

A Brexit deal has been reached by negotiators in Brussels and will be the focus of a crunch Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

A UK Government source confirmed that agreement had been reached at a "technical level" but Theresa May will need to win the support of her Cabinet.

There has been no official confirmation from either Downing Street or Brussels.

Irish broadcaster RTE reported that a "stable" text had been agreed on the thorny issue of the Northern Irish border.
The broadcaster said the deal involved one overall backstop in the form of a UK-wide customs arrangement, but with deeper provisions for Northern Ireland on customs and regulations.

The developments came after the Prime Minister told Cabinet on Tuesday morning that a "small number" of issues remained to be resolved and her de facto deputy David Lidington described a deal as "almost within touching distance".

Mr Lidington had announced that Ministers will lay out the Government's political and legal position on the proposed withdrawal agreement when Brexit negotiations have concluded.

The Cabinet Office Minister said the position statement would be made available to all MPs ahead of the meaningful vote on a deal.

Mr Lidington told the Commons: "I want to give a commitment to the opposition and the House: we will make available to all members of the House, following the conclusion of negotiations and ahead of the meaningful vote, a full, reasoned position statement laying out the Government's both political and also legal position on the proposed withdrawal agreement, and that includes any protocols that might be attached to it.

"In addition, the Attorney General has authorised me to confirm to the House this afternoon that he is ready to assist further by making an oral statement to the House and to take questions from members of the House in the normal way."

It came as Labour sought to use a parliamentary procedure known as a "humble address" to ask for "any legal advice in full, including that provided by the Attorney General, on the proposed withdrawal agreement on the terms of the UK's departure from the European Union including the Northern Ireland backstop and framework for a future relationship between the UK and the European Union".

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer denied Labour was calling for draft advice, but told the Commons: "It's the final advice, it's available to every MP and it's available at the point that the final proposed withdrawal agreement that's been agreed with the EU is put to this House, for this House to consider it."

Tory Remainers appeared sceptical of Labour's attempt to force the Government to publish Brexit legal advice, including on the Irish border, despite their own anxieties.

Conservative former attorney general Dominic Grieve said: "I have great sympathy with the anxieties he is expressing about the legal issues surrounding the potential backstop, but surely he'd agree with me that the proper practice is for the Government, at the conclusion of negotiations, to publish a document setting out the Government's position on the law.

"And if that differs from what the Attorney General has advised, I'd expect the Attorney General to resign forthwith."

Conservative former minister Anna Soubry, also intervening, later asked Sir Keir: "Is this a motion that was drafted by the office of (Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn) which has now subsequently been changed quite dramatically at the despatch box because of the intervention, yet again, of the shadow secretary of state to make good the failings of the leader of his party?"

Sir Keir told MPs there is a "good reason for this advice" and "good precedent", adding that publishing it was the "right thing to do".

"There is, I think, growing cross-party support for this advice to be published, and what I say to the Government is rather than fighting this unnecessary battle with Parliament, the Prime Minister should accept the motion and agree to publish the full advice."

Independent MP Lady Hermon (North Down) later asked: "Could I just be absolutely clear, could the minister be absolutely clear in what he is saying to the people of Northern Ireland?

"Can he confirm today that the people of Northern Ireland will not be kept in the dark by the British Government as to the exact legal consequences to the Belfast Good Friday Agreement of any negotiated deal by the British Government in good time before we have to vote on this deal?"

Mr Lidington replied: "I'm very happy to give that assurance and to say further that the relevant ministers will be happy to talk to her and to other...members representing Northern Ireland constituencies about exactly how the form of that analysis should be presented to the House so that people in Northern Ireland can understand clearly both what is being proposed in any potential withdrawal agreement and what the legal and constitutional and practical implications of that might be."

He added: "Our intention in Government is to provide the kind of analysis that I believe he (Robert Courts) has been seeking but which also would meet the requests and calls of honourable members of all shades of opinion on the European issue, not just in my party but in all parts of the House.

"I do also want to put on the record that there have already been some discussions through the usual channels on a cross party basis about how the Government can facilitate the briefing of..members in every party represented in this House and I can also give the House a further commitment that those contacts and conversations will also continue."
Mr Lidington later warned that if Labour pressed their motion to a vote and the party was successful then there "would be an adverse impact on the quality of discussions within Government and of Government's collective decision making".

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve said publishing the legal advice would be a mistake, despite thinking the Government appeared to be setting a "quite disgraceful timetable" to "bulldoze" MPs into supporting the deal without enough information.

He said: "There is a big difference between a break clause and a review clause as any lawyer will know, and that difference is going to be of the utmost importance."

Tory Remainer Anna Soubry intervened to ask Mr Grieve about being ordered to abstain in the vote.

The MP for Broxtowe asked: "Does he share my concern I have been told I am to abstain on this matter?
"I don't know why - I suspect it is because there isn't a majority.

"If that's the case, then who is running this country? This Government or the ERG?" (PA)

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