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British Prime Minister Theresa May won the backing of her senior ministers for a draft European Union divorce deal on Wednesday, freeing her to tackle the much more perilous struggle of getting parliament to approve the agreement.

More than two years after the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU in a referendum, May told reporters outside her Downing Street residence that she had won over her divided cabinet, which includes some senior Brexiteers.

"The collective decision of cabinet was that the government should agree the draft withdrawal agreement and the outline political declaration," May said outside her Downing Street residence after a five-hour cabinet meeting.

"I firmly believe that the draft withdrawal agreement is the best that could be negotiated," May said as protesters shouted anti-Brexit slogans from the end of the street.

It was not immediately clear whether any ministers had resigned over the deal, which May hopes will satisfy both Brexit voters and EU supporters by ensuring close ties with the bloc after Britain leaves on March 29.

But May, the weakest British leader in a generation, now faces the ordeal of trying to push her deal through a vote in the British parliament, where opponents lined up to castigate the agreement, even before reading it.

It is not yet clear when parliament might vote on a deal. To get it approved, May needs the votes of about 320 of parliament's 650 lawmakers.

The ultimate outcome for the United Kingdom remains uncertain: scenarios range from a calm divorce to rejection of May's deal, potentially sinking her premiership and leaving the bloc with no agreement, or another referendum.

May, an initial opponent of Brexit who won the top job in the turmoil following the referendum, has staked her future on a deal that she hopes will solve the Brexit riddle: leaving the EU while preserving the closest possible ties.

But she has satisfied few.

Brexit supporters in May's Conservative Party, which has been riven by a schism over Europe for three decades, said she had surrendered to the EU and that they would vote down the deal.

The Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which props up May's government, said it would not back any deal that treated the British province differently from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn called it a "botched deal".

Before May's statement, the BBC's political editor said anger among Brexit-supporting Conservative lawmakers in her party was so high that it was likely they would call on Thursday for a vote of no confidence in her leadership of the party.

May's statement in full

"The Cabinet has just had a long, detailed and impassioned debate on the draft Withdrawal Agreement and the Outline Political Declaration on our future relationship with the European Union.

These documents were the result of thousands of hours of hard negotiation by UK officials, and many, many meetings, which I and other ministers held with our EU counterparts.

I firmly believe that the draft Withdrawal Agreement was the best that could be negotiated, and it was for the Cabinet to decide whether to move on in the talks.

The choices before us were difficult, particularly in relation to the Northern Ireland backstop.

But the collective decision of cabinet was that the Government should agree the draft Withdrawal Agreement and the Outline Political Declaration – this is a decisive step which enables us to move on and finalise the deal in the days ahead.

These decisions were not taken lightly - but I believe it is a decision that is firmly in the national interest.

When you strip away the detail, the choice before us is clear. This deal, which delivers on the vote of the referendum, which brings back control of our money, laws and borders; ends free movement; protects jobs, security and our union; or leave with no deal; or no Brexit at all.

I know that there will be difficult days ahead. This is a decision which will come under intense scrutiny and that is entirely as it should be and entirely understandable.

But the choice was this deal, which enables us to take back control and to build a brighter future for our country, or going back to square one with more division, more uncertainty and a failure to deliver on the referendum.

It is my job as Prime Minister to explain the decisions that the government has taken and I stand ready to do that beginning tomorrow with a statement in parliament.

If I may end by just saying this. I believe that what I owe to this country is to take decisions that are in the national interest, and I firmly believe with my head and my heart that this is a decision which is in the best interests of our entire United Kingdom."

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