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Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May returns to 10 Downing Street in central London on Thursday.BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images

When British Prime Minister Theresa May meets other European Union leaders on Sunday in Brussels where they are expected to approve a Brexit deal, the warm smiles and handshakes will belie the growing reality that the agreement is on thin ice in Britain and might never be approved.

Ms. May and EU officials have been boldly marching forward with the deal for weeks, announcing a 585-page withdrawal agreement last week and then on Thursday unveiling a 26-page declaration that outlines the framework for future Britain-EU relations in trade, security, immigration, defence, foreign policy and a myriad of other areas. Both documents are expected to be rubber-stamped by EU leaders on Sunday and there’s little doubt that they’ll obtain the required approval of the European Parliament.

But in Britain, the situation is far less certain. The outcry over the deal has been escalating and almost no one believes Ms. May currently has enough support in the House of Commons to win approval for it. Most of the fiercest opposition has come from Ms. May’s Conservative Party colleagues, including hard-Brexit Tories who want nothing to do with the EU and pro-European MPs who want the country to remain in the EU’s single market. Both groups have bitterly rejected Ms. May’s deal and in total they represent about 70 MPs, more than enough to kill it considering the Conservatives don’t hold a majority of seats and the opposition Labour Party has said that it will not support the agreement.

On Thursday, Ms. May tried to win over critics by focusing on the declaration for the future relationship, telling the House of Commons it was “a good deal for our country and for our partners in the EU” and that “this would be the first such agreement between the EU and any advanced economy in the world, which will be good for jobs.” She highlighted some key aspects of the document, which calls for both sides to negotiate an “ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership” and “create a free-trade area, combining deep regulatory and customs co-operation, underpinned by provisions ensuring a level playing field."

But there was little indication that she’d had much success. Members of Parliament lined up to assail the declaration, which is non-binding. Some called it vague, contradictory and little more than a wish list that didn’t spell out how the objectives would be met. It was “26 pages of waffle,” Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn said. “This is the blindfold Brexit we all feared; a leap in the dark.”

Hard-Brexit Tories complained that the declaration indicated that Britain’s future trading relationship with the EU depended on how closely the country followed the bloc’s regulations, something they said ran against the principle of Brexit. They also criticized the backstop provisions in the legally binding withdrawal agreement that can be triggered if Britain and the EU fail to finalize an agreement on the future relationship by the end of 2020. Under the backstop, Britain would essentially remain inside the EU’s customs union for trade in goods and Northern Ireland would align even more closely with the EU in order to avoid a hard border with Ireland. Many Tory MPs say the backstop would tie Britain to the EU for an indeterminate period of time and treat Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the country.

“The top reason people voted to leave the EU was to take back democratic control over our laws. Isn’t it the regrettable but inescapable reality that this deal gives even more away?” former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab asked on Thursday. Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson said the backstop “makes a nonsense of Brexit” while Tory MP Mark Francois said Ms. May “had repeatedly made commitments and then done the opposite.”

The declaration also opened up another problem for Ms. May, in Scotland. Scottish MPs have long complained that EU fishing rules gave European boats unfair access to British waters, hurting Scotland’s key fishing industry. Ms. May promised Brexit would end that, but the declaration only calls for negotiations on a fishing treaty. “This means sovereignty over our waters sacrificed for a trade deal. That is unacceptable,” said Ross Thomson, a Tory MP from Scotland.

Ms. May will be in Brussels on Saturday for some final tweaking of the deal before it is signed off by EU leaders on Sunday. Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has raised some concern that the declaration doesn’t give Madrid a greater role in overseeing how Brexit impacts Gibraltar, but Ms. May insisted on Thursday that a solution will be found. She’ll then have a couple of weeks to try to win backing for it before MPs vote on it next month.

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