LONDON—With the ink still drying on the draft Brexit agreement between the UK and the EU, the British minister in charge of negotiating the deal has resigned, saying it threatens the integrity of the United Kingdom.
Brexit minister Dominic Raab made his announcement less than a day after Prime Minister Theresa May announced that her cabinet had endorsed the controversial draft agreement.
Raab’s resignation is likely to make it even harder for May to get the deal approved by Parliament, with Brexit supporters from her own party already ranged to undo her slim majority in lawmaking chambers.
It’s the terms of the deal aimed at preventing a hard-border between Ireland and Northern Ireland—the final sticking point in negotiations—that Raab couldn’t stomach.
Under the deal, while a border in the Irish Sea is avoided, Northern Ireland will be in a closer customs union with the EU and the rest of the UK.
“I believe that the regulatory regime proposed for Northern Ireland presents a very real threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom,” Raab wrote in his resignation letter.
Hybrid of Customs Union and Single Market
Raab also said he could not support the indefinite backstop agreement—a mechanism to prevent arrangements from lapsing into a return to a hard border—in which the EU holds veto over the UK’s ability to exit.
He said that the terms of the deal amounted to a hybrid of the EU customs union and single market.
“No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime, imposed externally without any democratic control over the laws to be applied, nor the ability to decide to exit the arrangement,” he said.
“Above all, I cannot reconcile the terms of the proposed deal with the promises we made to the country in our manifesto at the last election.”
May’s conservative party is a mixture of ministers and lawmakers who supported leaving and remaining in the EU, tasked with overseeing Brexit.
A number of key Brexit-supporting ministers have already resigned in recent months, saying that May’s plans would offer a watered down Brexit that left the UK at the mercy of EU rules without the ability to influence them.
May has promised lawmakers a “meaningful” vote on the deal, most likely in December. But with a wafer-thin majority in lawmaking chambers, and around 40 of her own party ready to vote against her, she may have to rely on rebel votes from the opposition Labour party, which is also somewhat split over Brexit.
Raab’s resignation increases the likelihood that the draft deal will be rejected by lawmakers. If they do, a number of scenarios are possible, including the UK stumbling on and “crashing out” of the EU without a deal; lawmakers sparking a general election; lawmakers calling a second referendum; and a second vote on the draft deal.
The Northern Ireland border has proven to be a difficult issue in negotiations.
After Brexit, the UK’s only land border with the EU will lie between Northern Ireland and Ireland—a border that was once a flash-point in sectarian violence, targeted by Irish Republicans as a hated embodiment of what they saw as British occupation.
After a peace deal was struck in 1998, border controls have all but disappeared, with customs and immigration handled seamlessly under common EU rules.
With both the EU and UK agreeing that a return to a hard border would be in violation of the Good Friday agreement, and a risk to the peace, but with businesses pushing for “frictionless trade,” the Northern Ireland border became the main sticking point later in negotiations on the exit deal.