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Tentative Brexit Deal Clears First Hurdle With U.K. Cabinet Support


British Prime Minister Theresa May has secured her Cabinet's approval for a draft Brexit agreement with the European Union - well, most of her Cabinet. Within the last few hours, her Brexit minister Dominic Raab quit, saying he could not support the deal. So did a second Cabinet minister and a couple of other top officials who are just outside the Cabinet. We don't know how much farther this is going to go.

Joining us to talk about these developments and more is Lotta Nymann-Lindegren. She is a former Finnish diplomat who was involved in the Brexit negotiations for the EU. And she's on the line from Copenhagen. Welcome to the program.

LOTTA NYMANN-LINDEGREN: Thank you so much.

INSKEEP: We don't know if Theresa May is going to get this plan through her own parliament. But is it a workable plan if she does?

NYMANN-LINDEGREN: It's absolutely a workable plan. It meets all the needs that can guarantee a no-hassle exit from the EU - so no problems for the business, no problems for the citizens.

INSKEEP: Although the reason that that would be is that it is kind of not an exit from the EU, right? In essential ways having to do with trade, Britain would remain part of the European Union in practical terms for an indeterminate time to come.

NYMANN-LINDEGREN: Well, it's an exit in stages, so it's not an overnight exit. They would exit legally in March. Then there would be a transition period. And after that, unless there is a new deal on the future, then they would, indeed, as you were saying, stay as part of the EU customs arrangement. And this would prevent them from making their own trade deals as long as this was the case.

INSKEEP: Does that make it easy to understand why some Brexiteers, as they're called - big fans of Brexit in Britain - would be walking away from this deal and even resigning from the British government?

NYMANN-LINDEGREN: Well, and this - and there are optics, of course. This is not taking back control immediately, the way they have hoped to do. So in that sense, the whole debate in the U.K. has been very emotional. It's been less about facts and more about emotions. And this is - this isn't the sudden solution they were hoping for. There are also many who are worried about the integrity of Great Britain because this arrangement gives Northern Ireland a different status from the rest of the U.K.

INSKEEP: Now, when you say this has been about emotion rather than facts, I heard that said about the campaign in 2016 when British voters were told, this is going to be easy. You're going to make so much money - no trouble at all. It's going to be super. And none of that has turned out to be true. But now there's been a couple of years of debate. Is it your sense observing this that the British public and British politicians are still not dealing with the facts here?

NYMANN-LINDEGREN: Well, the debate has not moved a lot in the U.K., unfortunately. And it's still been about the old arguments. And there have been several actors who have tried to convince the public that if the EU just - I mean, if the U.K. just negotiates the right things, then it's still possible. And clearly, this is not true. And that's - these are the accusations they will need to face right now.

INSKEEP: OK. So if Theresa May holds her government together, which is an if at this moment, and gets this measure through Parliament, what happens after that?

NYMANN-LINDEGREN: After that, then the EU member states will have to approve the deal in the European Parliament. But this is not going to be a problem because this is - I mean, this has been known to them for a very long time. And then on the 29 of March at 11 o'clock in the evening, then the U.K. will formally leave the European Union. But there will be a 20-month transition period.

INSKEEP: Twenty-month transition period - so that is what could be ahead unless this looming disaster in Britain becomes an...


INSKEEP: ...Even greater disaster.

NYMANN-LINDEGREN: That's right. And after the transition, then either there's a new deal on the relationship or no deal. And then in that case, the U.K. continues in the customs partnership until there's a new deal.

INSKEEP: We've been talking with Lotta Nymann-Lindegren who's a former Finnish diplomat based in Brussels. She's in Copenhagen right now. Thanks so much.

NYMANN-LINDEGREN: Thank you so much for calling. Have a good day.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this story, we incorrectly refer to Dominic Raab as Britain's Brexit minister. He was Britain's Brexit secretary.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: November 15, 2018 at 12:00 AM EST
In this story, we incorrectly refer to Dominic Raab as Britain's Brexit minister. He was Britain's Brexit secretary.