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Cabinet ministers quit over Brexit terms

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Prime Minister Theresa May fights to save deal in Parliament

LONDON British Prime Minister Theresa May battled yesterday to save a draft divorce deal with the European Union (EU) after ministers quit in protest against a deal they say will trap Britain in the bloc's orbit for years.

Hours after Mrs May said her team of top ministers had agreed to the terms of the draft agreement, Brexit Minister Dominic Raab and Work and Pensions Minister Esther McVey quit, saying they could not support it.

Their departure and the resignations of two junior ministers shook Mrs May's divided government and her Brexit strategy, raising the prospect of Britain leaving the EU without a deal. Some lawmakers openly questioned whether Mrs May's government will survive.

Mr Raab is the second Brexit secretary to quit over Mrs May's plans to leave the EU. By leaving now, some suggested Mr Raab could be positioning himself as a possible successor to Mrs May.

It was the backstop arrangement, which would see Britain and the EU establishing a single customs territory, that spurred most of the criticism and resignations of her senior ministers.

"I cannot reconcile the terms of the proposed deal with the promises we made to the country in our manifesto at the last election," Mr Raab said.

Mrs May showed little sign of backing down in Parliament, where she warned lawmakers they faced a stark decision.

"The choice is clear. We can choose to leave with no deal, we can risk no Brexit at all, or we can choose to unite and support the best deal that can be negotiated," she said.

She said lawmakers who believed she could get a deal that did not include a backstop arrangement to prevent the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland were wrong.

In Parliament, lawmakers from Mrs May's Conservative Party and the opposition parties took turns to rubbish the draft, a sign she faces an all but impossible task to get the deal through the House of Commons.

Many criticised the draft deal for making Britain a "vassal" state, beholden to the bloc's rules even after leaving.

Others said an agreement on the so-called backstop would tear Britain apart, leaving Northern Ireland all but in the EU's single market.

It took an hour of parliamentary questions before she was asked a friendly, rather than hostile, one, with a Conservative lawmaker saying Mrs May had done the best she could.

EU leaders are ready to meet on Nov 25 to sign off on the divorce deal, but French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe summed up the uncertainty when he said events in London raised concerns about whether it would be ratified.

"We need to prepare ourselves for a no-deal Brexit," he said. - REUTERS