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U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has begun briefing her Cabinet on the text of the almost-complete deal to leave the European Union, as her negotiators seek to finalize the last outstanding issue in Brussels.

Senior ministers were invited into a private reading room in a building adjoining May's offices to examine the 95 percent of the withdrawal package that's been agreed so far, according to people familiar with the matter.

What's missing is the most contentious part of the deal -- the guarantee to keep the goods trade flowing freely across the Irish border. Options are now being negotiated in detail by British and European officials in Brussels, according to people familiar with the positions of both sides.

If these talks are successful, officials will declare that "decisive progress" has been made on the terms of the U.K.'s exit from the bloc. British officials say this could happen next week or even as early as today.

May still will need to get the deal, including the so-called Irish border backstop plan, approved by her Cabinet and later by Parliament -- where she's likely to face considerable opposition.

But two people familiar with the issue suggested she would not need to wait for Cabinet approval before signing up in principle to the terms negotiated in Brussels.

There was no agreement at a Cabinet meeting Tuesday as ministers were still discussing a fix for the Irish border issue. They expect another meeting to be called within days, when May is likely to press them to sign off on her deal.

She still faces one major hurdle to getting that Cabinet agreement. Anti-EU ministers led by Environment Secretary Michael Gove are demanding to see the full legal advice on which May's plans are based.

Opposition Labor Party spokesman Keir Starmer said the legal advice should be published, because "the public have the right to know precisely what the Cabinet has signed up to and what the implications are for the future."

Gove and his Cabinet colleagues are concerned May will tie the U.K. into an open-ended customs union with the EU -- all as part of the backstop plan for the Irish border. Anti-EU members of May's Tory party will see that as a betrayal of the U.K.'s 2016 vote to leave the EU, and could try to block the deal and even attempt to oust her.

A document leaked to the BBC suggests the government hopes to bridge the Cabinet divide and strike a deal this month, which would then be put to lawmakers for approval.

The memo describes how May would try to win parliamentary and public support for an agreement before urging lawmakers to "put the country's interests first" and back the deal in Parliament.

The document appears to consist of notes rather than a finished proposal. May's office did not deny it was genuine but said the document's "childish language" and misspellings made clear it "doesn't represent the government's thinking."

Separately, May and European Council President Donald Tusk spoke by phone Wednesday, a sign of movement in deadlocked talks.

Tusk tweeted that the pair spoke "to take stock of progress in #brexit talks and discuss way ahead." Tusk has said he is willing to call a special EU summit if there are new proposals from Britain to unblock talks.

Information for this article was contributed by Tim Ross, Kitty Donaldson, Robert Hutton and Ian Wishart of Bloomberg News; and by Jill Lawless of The Associated Press.

A Section on 11/08/2018

Print Headline: British Cabinet given briefings on EU-exit deal

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