Cabinet backs draft Brexit text, says Prime Minister

Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement outside 10 Downing Street, London, confirming that Cabinet has agreed the draft Brexit withdrawal agreement. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday November 14, 2018. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement outside 10 Downing Street, London, confirming that Cabinet has agreed the draft Brexit withdrawal agreement. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday November 14, 2018. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

Prime Minister Theresa May says her cabinet has backed the draft Brexit deal she has negotiated with the EU.

Speaking on the steps of Ten Downing Street tonight, Theresa May said there had been a “long, detailed and impassioned debate” on the Brexit deal.

The Prime Minister said: “I firmly believe that the draft withdrawal agreement was the best that could be negotiated and it was for the Cabinet to decide whether to move on in the talks.

“The choices before us were difficult, particularly in relation to the Northern Ireland backstop, but the collective decision of Cabinet was that the Government should agree the draft withdrawal agreement and the outline political declaration.”

Mrs May said: “This is a decisive step which enables us to move on and finalise the deal in the days ahead.

“These decisions were not taken lightly but I believe it is a decision that is firmly in the national interest.”

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier will be speaking to the press at 9pm (8pm UK time), according to EU Commission chief spokeswoman Margaritas Schinas.

DUP leader Arlene Foster is to meet the Prime Minister at around 8.30pm tonight.

DUP Brexit spokesman MP Sammy Wilson has faced criticism for comparing the draft Brexit deal to a “punishment beating”.

Mr Wilson used the violent analogy in a TV interview, as he claimed the EU was treating the UK harshly for “daring to vote to leave”.

Vigilante attacks carried out by paramilitaries in Northern Ireland during the Troubles were commonly referred to as punishment beatings.

The assaults are still a regular occurrence, 20 years on from the Good Friday peace deal.

In an interview about the draft Brexit deal with Sky News, Mr Wilson said: “This is all about a punishment beating for the UK because they dared to vote to leave the EU.

“And unfortunately the Prime Minister has allowed that punishment beating to be administered.

“That punishment beating in my belief will damage the UK and damage the UK constitution.”

Liberal Democrat Northern Ireland spokesman Alistair Carmichael criticised Mr Wilson’s choice of language.

“Over the past few months there has been cross-party agreement that the use of violent imagery and language has no place in our politics,” he said.

“Sammy Wilson’s analogy is completely unacceptable and potentially dangerous. Many will read his words as being a clear reference to paramilitary violence and intimidation used during the Troubles in Northern Ireland by terrorist groups.

“Politicians set the tone. In this time of division and rancour we must debate with respect and care.”

Mr Wilson is well known for his robust and outspoken approach.

In January, he expressed regret for calling Taoiseach Leo Varadkar “a nutcase”.

Last month, he branded Mr Varadkar “despicable, low and rotten”.