Newspaper headlines focus on Theresa May's Brexit battle

Theresa May speaking to the press in Downing Street after Wednesday's cabinet meeting Image copyright EPA

Theresa May has set out a challenge to those who oppose the draft Brexit agreement agreed by her cabinet and is preparing for a fight, according to Thursday's front pages.

"My deal... or no Brexit" is how the Daily Express sees it, while the Metro sums up the dilemma for restive Tory MPs as: "Back May or sack May."

Meanwhile, the Guardian ponders how to secure ministers' backing the prime minister had to overcome a cabinet split that is reflected across the nation as a whole.

A fair proportion of leader writers and columnists believe the draft agreement is "a bad deal".

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The deal has "zero appeal", says the Daily Mirror. "We are neither taking back control, as the Leave campaign promised, nor able to retain the benefits which come with EU membership. Mrs May has decided a bad deal is better than no deal."

In the Daily Telegraph, Mrs May's former chief of staff Nick Timothy describes the agreement as a "capitulation" and says the EU commission "knows it has won hands down".

Sketchwriter Quentin Letts, in the Daily Mail, observes that when making her statement in Downing Street Mrs May "looked decidedly less chipper" than the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, who was "wreathed in triumphant smiles, his mood that of a slightly surprised victor" in Brussels.

As the Times sees it: "Parliament must decide whether a bad deal is better than the alternatives."

'Quite a coup'

Even so, a Daily Mail editorial backs the PM, saying Britain is fed up with the "die hard posturing" of Brexiteers.

There's an endorsement too from the Daily Express, which says: "Yet again our remarkable prime minister has defied all predictions and pulled off quite a coup."

The Guardian is also charitable to the PM, saying: "There was nothing Theresa May could have done about an imbalance of power in a negotiation between one country and a bloc of 27." The compromises, it says, have been visible for months and the flaws in the deal are intrinsic to Brexit.

But there is no let-up from the Sun, which demands: "Do not trick Britain, Prime Minister."

Declaring the EU to be "founded on deceit", it says the deal would lock the UK into the EU's customs union for all time, powerlessly swallowing orders and obeying rules - and unable to escape without consent which Brussels will never give.

'Resignation watch'

The papers paint a picture of a prime minister under pressure from all sides. An unnamed ministerial aide tells the Financial Times that Downing Street "should be on resignation watch" after playing down the split in the cabinet.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph says Mrs May faces a potential leadership challenge within days amid a "furious Tory backlash".

According to the online Independent, civil servants have been told to stop including Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionists - on whom Mrs May has relied to win key votes - in Brexit emails. The paper interprets this as a sign that Conservative whips have accepted they will not get DUP support for the prime minister's approach.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Fishing rights remain a big issue in parts of Scotland

The Belfast Telegraph talks of the partnership with the Conservatives crumbling. South of the border, the Irish Times tells readers: "Mrs May faces grim parliamentary arithmetic that offers no apparent route to victory."

Meanwhile, the Scotsman says a "furious" SNP are demanding that Scotland be treated the same way as Northern Ireland. It says Mrs May has "been put on notice" by the Scottish Conservative group at Westminster, with members warning they would not support a deal that fails to honour promises made to fishermen.

The Herald reports that the 13 Scottish Tory MPs at Westminster have sent a letter to the PM warning they won't vote for any deal that does not restore "complete control and full sovereignty" over the UK's fishing waters.

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