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Theresa May insists she can persuade MPs about Brexit deal

Media captionBBC’s Laura Kuenssberg asks the PM if she is “in office, but not really in power?”

Theresa May has insisted her Brexit agreement is “truly the best deal for Britain” amid speculation over whether she retains of the support of key ministers, including Michael Gove.

The BBC understands Mr Gove rejected the PM’s offer to make him Brexit secretary, because the prime minister would not let him renegotiate the deal.

Ex-Brexit Secretary David Davis has urged her to ask Brussels for changes.

But the PM said her job was to persuade MPs the deal was in the UK’s interest.

Mrs May has gone on the offensive as speculation swirls around Westminster about a vote of no-confidence in her, which could lead to her removal as prime minister and a change of course on Brexit.

She followed up a defiant Downing Street press conference on Thursday with a live phone-in on Friday morning on LBC radio, during which two callers said she stand aside.

She compared herself to her cricketing hero Sir Geoffrey Boycott who she said had “kept at the crease and carried on”.

Asked whether she still had the support of the Democratic Unionists, on whom she relies upon for her Commons majority, she said she was “still working with” Arlene Foster’s party.

The government unveiled its long-awaited draft withdrawal agreement on Wednesday, which sets out the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU, over 585 pages.

But Mrs May is facing opposition from across the political spectrum to the draft deal, which must be approved by Parliament, with critics saying it will leave the UK indefinitely tied to the EU.

Media captionHow the Conservative Party handles a leadership challenge

Cabinet resignations

The BBC understands Mr Gove, a leading Leave figure during the EU referendum, rejected her offer to make him Brexit secretary, saying he would only accept it if he could try to make changes to the negotiated deal – something Mrs May and EU leaders have made clear is not possible.

Asked about Mr Gove’s future, Mrs May said she wanted “all her colleagues to feel able to carry on the excellent job they are doing”, adding she expected to appoint a new Brexit secretary “in a day or two”.

She said she was “very sorry” to have lost Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey, who both quit over the agreement on Thursday.

The draft agreement has also upset some Tory backbenchers, including leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, who said he and others had submitted letters of no confidence in Mrs May to the chairman of the Conservatives’ backbench 1922 Committee.

Forty eight letters are needed to trigger a confidence vote.

It is also understood that a group of cabinet ministers are also considering whether to try to force Mrs May to make some changes to the withdrawal deal.

Former Brexit Secretary David Davis said there was still time to improve the text.

“The European Union has spun this out deliberately to try to use time against us,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today. “But European negotiations are never over until they’re concluded.”

‘Right for our country’

The provisional agreement sets out commitments over citizens’ rights after Brexit, the proposed 21-month transition period, the £39bn “divorce bill” and, most controversially, the “backstop” to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

It still needs to get the stamp of approval from MPs in Parliament, and finally from the 27 other EU member states.

Media captionWhat do the other parties think of PM’s Brexit plan?

Elsewhere, some of Mrs May’s own backbenchers warned the deal would not command support in the House of Commons, when it is put to a vote in early December.

Tory MP Mark Francois said that with Labour, the SNP, the Lib Dems and Northern Ireland’s DUP planning to vote against it – alongside, he said, more than 80 Tory MPs – it was “mathematically impossible to get this deal through the House of Commons” and it was “dead on arrival”.

However during a press conference in Downing Street, Mrs May said abandoning the withdrawal deal would be “to take a path of deep and grave uncertainty when the British people just want us to get on with it”.

Theresa May insists she can persuade MPs about Brexit deal}

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