UK Prime Minister Theresa May delivers a speech during the annual Lord Mayor’s Banquet at Guildhall in London, Britain, on November 12 2018. Picture: REUTERS/HENRY NICHOLLS
UK Prime Minister Theresa May delivers a speech during the annual Lord Mayor’s Banquet at Guildhall in London, Britain, on November 12 2018. Picture: REUTERS/HENRY NICHOLLS

London — On Wednesday, UK Prime Minister Theresa May will try to convince senior ministers to accept a draft EU divorce deal that opponents say would imperil her own government and threaten the unity of the UK.

As the EU braces for the biggest split in its history, the weakest British leader in a generation now has to try to get the deal approved by parliament before exiting the bloc on March 29, 2019.

Brexiteers in May’s party accuse her of surrendering to the EU and say they would vote the deal down, while the Northern Irish party that props up her minority government questioned whether she would be able to get parliamentary approval.

The British cabinet will meet at 2pm GMT.

“From what we have seen and heard, we do not believe this deal is the best deal,” said Jeffrey Donaldson, a lawmaker in the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) that is propping up May’s government. “This deal has the potential to lead to the break-up of the UK and that is not something we can support.”  Donaldson also said that he isnot afraid of another election.

Doubts and divisions

The draft deal pushes the UK towards the Brexit finale though the ultimate outcome is uncertain: scenarios range from a calm divorce to upheaval that would scuttle the economy and sink May’s premiership or even lead to another referendum.

May, an initial opponent of Brexit who won the top job in the turmoil following the referendum vote, has staked her future on a deal she hopes will solve the Brexit riddle: how to leave the EU while preserving the closest possible ties.

But far from garnering broad support, May’s plans so far have upset Brexiteers, pro-Europeans, Scottish nationalists, Northern Ireland’s DUP and some of her own ministers.

Brexit will pitch the world’s fifth largest economy into the unknown and many fear it will serve to divide the West as it grapples with both the unconventional presidency of Donald Trump and growing assertiveness from Russia and China.

For the EU, already reeling from successive crises over debt and refugees, the loss of Britain is the biggest blow yet to 60 years of efforts to forge European unity in the wake of two world wars.

Sterling, which has see-sawed since reaching $1.50 just before Britain’s 2016 referendum that saw a 52% to 48% margin for leaving the EU, surged on news of a deal but then erased some gains as opponents lined up to criticise May.

Supporters of Brexit say that while the divorce might bring some short-term instability, in the longer term it will allow the UK to thrive and also enable deeper EU integration without such a powerful reluctant member.