In the late hours of Wednesday the 14th of November, a seemingly battered, yet gleeful Theresa May emerged from 10 Downing Street after what she titled “5 hours of heated debate”. She looked tired and flabbergasted, however, the news she had to share was positive. For the first time in 2 years, despite the bitter in-fighting and resignations, the Cabinet had finally backed her Brexit withdrawal plans.

She said she was optimistic and that ‘her head and heart’ were behind the deal as she proclaimed that cabinet unity would see the deal through. 

Theresa May’s Brexit Statement in full 

Resignations

Despite the earlier proclamation of unity, the morning after was not kind to Mrs May. Before 10:30am the next day an all too different story had emerged. Before her speech to Parliament was over, we had already seen at resignations from senior and junior ministers alike.

Down Goes Dominic 

In a devastating blow, Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab quit shortly before the prime minister was due to give her statement to MPs in parliament, saying he could not support the withdrawal agreement struck with the European Union and approved by Cabinet on Wednesday.

Raab, who is the second occupant of the office to resign this year, after David Davis’ departure in July, said he “cannot in good conscience support the terms proposed for our deal with the EU.”

In his resignation letter to the prime minister, Raab said he was concerned the regulatory regime for Northern Ireland proposed under the “backstop” guarantee (more on this later) for avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland represented “a very real threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom.”

He added that he could not support an “indefinite” backstop arrangement. Raab had been known to favor a unilateral mechanism for the U.K. to leave the backstop — a provision which was not included in the draft withdrawal agreement published on Wednesday.

Chain Reaction 

McVey was next to go, quitting just an hour after Raab and was swiftly followed by Suella Braverman, a junior minister at the Department for Exiting the EU. Braverman, who is a former head of the European Research Group of backbench Brexiteer MPs, tweeted she looked forward to “working to support Brexit from the backbenches.” 

In her letter to the prime minister, McVey, a longstanding Brexit supporter, accused May of putting a deal to Cabinet that “does not honor the result of the [2016 EU] referendum.”

“The proposals put before Cabinet, which will soon be judged by the entire country, means [sic] handing over around £39 billion to the EU without anything in return,” she wrote. “It will trap us in a customs union, despite you specifically promising the British people we would not be.”

McVey said “I could not look my constituents in the eye” and defend the draft deal.

In her resignation letter, Suella Braverman said that the negotiations had been an “uncomfortable journey.”

“Throughout this process, I have compromised. I have put pragmatism ahead of idealism and understand that concessions are necessary in a negotiation,” she said. “However I have reached a point where I feel that these concessions do not respect the will of the people.”

Shailesh Vara, a junior minister responsible for Northern Ireland, also resigned. Vara said in his resignation letter that the draft withdrawal agreement doesn’t deliver on the promises made to voters, and “leaves the U.K. in a half-way house with no time limit on when we will finally be a sovereign state.”

She May’be Going

It did not take long to emerge that, as well as fighting to push this withdrawal agreement through parliament, a possibility that the parliamentary arithmetic does not allow, Mrs May might also have to fight for her political future as a vote of no-confidence looms ever closer. 

Leading backbench Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg submitted a letter of no confidence in her to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the Tories’ backbench 1922 Committee.

Only 48 Tory MPs have to write letters to Sir Graham for a vote to be triggered. 

Mr Rees-Mogg told reporters that the negotiations had “given way on all the key points” adding: “The deal risks Brexit because it is not a proper Brexit.”He denied being involved in a coup against the PM, saying he was “working through the procedures of the Conservative Party” which was “entirely constitutional”. 

The embattled Prime Minister was briefing MPs in the House of Commons on the draft deal on Thursday morning amid rumours that the number of letters submitted by Tory MPs to the 1922 committee was nearing the 48 needed to trigger a confidence vote. 

Mrs May is facing a battle to get the deal, which was passed by Cabinet on Wednesday night, through Parliament with Brexiteer Conservative MPs, Remainers, the Labour party and the DUP all saying they will vote down the plan. She has been accused of breaking promises and handing control back to Brussels.

How Would No Confidence Work? 

A ‘no confidence vote’ takes place if the Prime Minister is no longer deemed fit to hold her role by her own MPs. A total of 48 Tory MPs must write to the party’s 1922 Committee chair Graham Brady to request a vote of confidence. If the Prime Minister won the confidence vote, she would remain in office and be awarded immunity for a year. 

If the Prime Minister loses a confidence vote, she is obliged to resign and would be barred from standing in the leadership election that follows.

What Would Happen Next?

If this is the case, what is known as a two-week ‘cooling off’ period will commence. During this time, Parliament is dissolved, although Mrs May would still remain in Downing Street. 

If the Tories cannot choose a new leader and form a new Government with the support of a majority of MPs within 14 calendar days, an early General Election is triggered.

A new government could also include a cross-party allegiance and could dramatically change the government as we understand it now. However, if an alternative government cannot be formed with a majority support, the prime minister would be forced to set a date for another general election – the second while Mrs May has been at Downing Street.

House Of Cards Deal 

The draft withdrawal agreement is all about how the UK leaves the European Union. It’s not about any permanent future relationship.

It’s a long read – 585 pages long and is available for all to read

Most of the details in there are of the financial settlement (often dubbed the divorce bill) that the two sides agreed some months ago: over time, it means the UK will pay at least £39bn to the EU to cover all its financial obligations.

There’s also a long section on citizens’ rights after Brexit for EU citizens in the UK and Brits elsewhere in Europe. It maintains their existing residency rights, but big questions remain about a host of issues, including the rights of UK citizens to work across borders elsewhere in the EU.

Some key takeaways.

Transition

The legal basis for a transition (or implementation) period, beginning after Brexit is due to happen on 29 March 2019. It would be 21 months during which the UK would continue to follow all European Union rules (in order to give governments and businesses more time to prepare for long term change).

That means that during transition, the UK would remain under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (in fact, the ECJ is mentioned more than 60 times in this document). The document says that decisions adopted by European Union institutions during this period “shall be binding on and in the United Kingdom”.

The transition period is also designed to allow time for the UK and the EU to reach a trade deal. The draft agreement says both sides will use their “best endeavours” to ensure that a long term trade deal is in place by the end of 2020. Significantly, if more time is needed, the option of extending the transition appears in the document (although, it makes it clear that the UK would have to pay for it).

The document doesn’t say how long the transition could be extended for (in fact they’ve left the date blank), only that the Joint Committee may take a decision “extending the transition period up to [31 December 20XX].” UK officials hope that the date will be clarified by the time of the proposed EU summit on 25 November.

Northern Island

If there was no long term trade agreement and no extension of the transition, that’s when the so-called “backstop” would kick in. It’s the issue that has dominated negotiations for the last few weeks and months: how to ensure that no hard border (with checks or physical infrastructure) emerges after Brexit between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Both sides agreed back in December 2017 that there should be a guarantee to avoid a hard border under all circumstances. That guarantee came to be known as the backstop, but agreeing a legal text proved very difficult.

So what exactly does this draft agreement say about the border, the backstop and the legal guarantees that underpin it? If a backstop is needed, it will – as expected – take the form of a temporary customs union encompassing not just Northern Ireland but the whole of the UK.The draft agreement describes this as a “single customs territory”.

Northern Ireland, though, will be in a deeper customs relationship with the EU than Great Britain, and even more closely tied to the rules of the EU single market.

Possible outcomes following the announcement of the Brexit withdrawal agreement