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Cabinet gets first look at draft Brexit deal papers

Update: Mrs May in Downing Street PICTURE: PA

MINISTERS were invited to read the draft Brexit withdrawal deal last night, but without details of how to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.

A Downing Street source said it does ‘not imply a deal has been done’ but showed ‘where we are so far’.

Michael Gove, the environment secretary, described the document as ‘great’ — without giving any details.

But he was among those demanding the government publish the legal advice it has received on how any ‘backstop’ arrangement — to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland — could be ended, to ensure it does not become a permanent settlement.

Northern Ireland’s DUP, whose 10 MPs prop up Theresa May’s administration in the Commons, also wants the details made public.

Legal advice is usually confidential, but DUP chief whip Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that if MPs were going to have a meaningful vote on the deal ‘then I think people are entitled to know what that advice is’.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said it was ‘essential’ MPs see the legal advice drawn up by attorney general Geoffrey Cox.

The concerns focus on his advice on how an exit from the backstop could be found to make sure the UK is not permanently kept within a customs union, which would curtail its ability to strike free-trade deals with non-EU nations — a key prize for Brexiteers.

Mrs May updated European Council president Donald Tusk yesterday. He said the call was a chance to ‘take stock of progress’ and discuss the way ahead. The prime minister assured ministers there would be another Cabinet meeting before any agreement is settled.