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Northern Ireland Office minister resigns over draft Brexit deal

Shailesh Vara who has quit as Minister of State for Northern Ireland.
Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Shailesh Vara who has quit as Minister of State for Northern Ireland. Liam McBurney/PA Wire

By Mark Edwards and PA

A minister at the Northern Ireland Office has resigned in protest over Theresa May's draft Brexit deal.

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Shailesh Vara, a Conservative MP for North West Cambridgeshire, announced his resignation on Thursday morning.

Mr Vara, posting on Twitter, said he was resigning with "much sadness and regret".

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Vara said he "cannot support the Withdrawal Agreement" that has been agreed with the European Union.

He added: "We will be locked in a Customs Arrangement indefinitely, bound by rules determined by the EU over which we have no say.

"Worse, we will not be free to leave the Customs Arrangement unilaterally if we wish to do so. Northern Ireland in the meantime will be subject to a different relationship with the EU from the rest of the UK and whilst I agree there should be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom must be respected."

Mr Vara is the first minister to resign since the draft Brexit deal was agreed on Wednesday.

Mr Vara's departure comes amid a furious backlash from Brexit-backing Tories to the deal agreed by UK and EU negotiators four months ahead of the UK's scheduled withdrawal on March 29.

Westminster was braced for further resignations, amid widespread expectations that the Prime Minister may face a challenge to her position from Conservative MPs submitting letters of no confidence in her leadership.

The Prime Minister cleared the first hurdle when Cabinet ministers finally approved the draft terms of her agreement with Brussels at a stormy five-hour meeting on Wednesday.

But she now faces a battle to get it through Parliament as pro-Leave Conservative MPs - as well as some Remainers - lined up to condemn the plan, accusing her of breaking promises and leaving the UK at the mercy of Brussels.

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