British Prime Minister Theresa May is set to take her Brexit deal to parliament, where she faces tough questions from MPs.
May will set out the terms of the draft withdrawal agreement on Thursday to the House of Commons, which must approve the deal before the UK leaves the European Union on March 29.
The PM secured the backing of her cabinet for the draft agreement on Wednesday, after a five-hour meeting.
“The collective decision of the government was that the cabinet should agree to the draft agreement and the outlying political declaration,” May said on Wednesday.
“This is a decisive step, which allows us to move on and finalise the deal in the days ahead,” she added. “These decisions were not taken lightly, but I firmly believe they were in the national interest.”
European Council President Donald Tusk will give his verdict on the draft agreement in Brussels, with London hoping he will call a leaders’ summit later this month to seal the deal.
But while EU negotiator Michel Barnier applauded the “decisive progress” made after months of deadlock, he warned there was “lots of work” still to do.
The draft agreement has faced opposition from British MPs, including hardline Brexit supporters within May’s Conservative party.
“I know that there will be difficult days ahead, and this is a decision that will come under intense scrutiny and that is how it should be and entirely natural,” May said Wednesday.
“It is my responsibility to defend any decision the government has taken and I stand ready to do that.”
In her statement on Wednesday, May said the agreement included a solution to avoid a hard border in Ireland.
“The choices before us were difficult, particularly in relation to the Northern Ireland backstop,” she said, without giving details about what the solution will be.
Al Jazeera correspondent Paul Brennan said Thursday will be a crucial day for both Brexit and the May government as a whole.
“We are wondering now if the Brexit piece is falling into place or the British government is falling into pieces,” Brennan said from London.
“The reaction has been almost universally opposed to the deal, both the Brexiteers and those who want to stay in the EU are extremely unhappy,” he said.
The Irish border has been a key issue during negotiations between London and Brussels.
Both have vowed to prevent the re-emergence of a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which will leave the EU with Britain, amid fears the issue could reignite decades-old tensions.
But the two sides disagreed for a long time on how to resolve the issue.
Tough road ahead
Earlier on Wednesday, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said the agreement “breaches the prime minister’s own red lines”, adding that negotiations with Brussels had been “shambolic”.
“This government spent two years negotiating a bad deal that will leave the country in an indefinite half-way house,” Corbyn said.
Conservative Peter Bone, a leading pro-Brexit MP, also criticised May.
“You are not delivering the Brexit people voted for and today you will lose the support of many Conservative MPs and millions of voters,” Bone said.
Following the UK’s announcement an agreement was signed, Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Wednesday that an emergency EU summit could be held on November 25 to vote on the deal.
The UK parliament would then vote on the Brexit accord.
If successful, the whole Brexit process should be concluded on March 29, 2019, almost three years after the referendum was held.
The Brexit agreement comes after months of intense negotiations between UK and EU leaders and mounting pressure on May.
Last month, May said she was “ready to consider” extending a transition phase after the UK leaves, according to officials.
Such an extension, keeping Britain under EU governance with no say in it, would be highly unpopular with hardline supporters of Brexit.
The idea of a one-year extension to the transition period had been proposed by EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.
This would buy more time to negotiate the future relationship between Britain and the EU, which could potentially help to make progress on the Irish border issue.