LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May has defended the draft Brexit deal reached with the European Union that triggered the resignations of senior ministers and mutiny within her Conservative Party.
May appeared on British radio station LBC on Friday, amid mounting speculation that Conservative MPs could trigger a vote of no confidence in her leadership in the coming days.
“I truly believe this is the best deal for Britain,” May said of the proposed withdrawal agreement, adding that she was “very sorry” that ministers had quit her government.
When asked to resign by a caller during the radio phone-in, May said that her divorce deal delivered on the key issues for many people who voted to leave the EU.
“You’re absolutely right that for a lot of people who voted ‘Leave’, what they wanted to do was make sure that decisions on things like who can come into this country would be taken by us here in the UK, and not by Brussels, and that’s exactly what the deal I’ve negotiated delivers,” she said.
“We are leaving the European Union on the 29 March, 2019,” she added.
There was intense speculation on Friday morning in London that prominent Brexit hardliner Michael Gove was close to resigning, but he later announced his support for the prime minister.
“I think it’s absolutely vital that we focus on getting the right deal in the future, and making sure that in the areas that matter so much to the British people, we can get a good outcome,” he told reporters.
The UK voted to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum, when 52 percent of voters opted for Brexit while 48 percent voted to remain in the EU.
But two years after the vote, the terms of the separation remain undecided.
The 585-page draft aims to ensure a smooth divorce from the EU after more than four decades of membership and outlines a transition period for both sides to adjust to the break.
It addresses issues including citizens’ rights after Brexit, the controversial “backstop” to avoid a hard border in Ireland and the divorce payment that Britain will pay when it leaves the bloc.
Opponents of the deal have cited concerns that it leaves too much power in Brussels and places Northern Ireland in a separate regulatory regime to the rest of the UK.
Brexit Minister Dominic Raab and the Minister for Work and Pensions Esther McVey both resigned from May’s cabinet on Thursday, saying they could not support the agreement.
Two junior ministers also quit and pro-Brexit Conservative MPs warned that May’s deal would not win the approval of parliament.
A spokesperson for the prime minister said that a replacement Brexit minister is expected to be appointed.
Meanwhile, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who leads a group of anti-EU Conservatives, submitted a no-confidence letter against the prime minister on Thursday saying that “it would be in the interest of the party and the country if she were to stand aside”.
At least 48 such letters from the ruling party MPs are required to trigger a vote of no confidence in the party leader, and a majority of the party’s 315 legislators would have to vote against May in order for her to be removed.
MPs from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a Northern Irish party that props up May’s minority government, have also expressed strong reservations over the proposed deal.__Al Jazeera