LONDON - The British cabinet on Wednesday gave its backing to a draft Brexit deal agreed with the EU, Prime Minister Theresa May said after a meeting that lasted more than five hours.
"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 office.
She said the deal was "the best that could be negotiated", adding: "The choices before us were difficult, particularly in relation to the Northern Ireland backstop."
But she said agreement by cabinet ministers was "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," May said.
"When you strip away the detail, the choice before us is clear.
"This deal, which delivers on the vote of the (2016) 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."
The announcement of the deal on Tuesday prompted a wave of criticism from eurosceptics in May's Conservative party, as well as her Northern Irish allies, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
"I know that there will be difficult days ahead," May said, adding that intense scrutiny of the agreement was "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."
The prime minister ended on a personal note, saying: "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."