EU leaders have endorsed Brexit deal at summit in Brussels

Leaders agreed text of UK withdrawal from EU warning deal is best Britain will get

In a press conference in Brussels, President of the European Commission Donald Tusk, confirmed that the 27 EU states have ratified Theresa May's Brexit deal. Video: European Commission

 

European Union leaders warned the British parliament not to wreck Theresa May’s Brexit deal, saying a package agreed with the prime minister on Sunday was the best Britain will get.

“Those who think that, by rejecting the deal, they would get a better deal, will be disappointed,” European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters after the 27 other EU leaders formally endorsed a treaty setting terms for British withdrawal in March and an outline of a future EU-UK trade pact.

Asked whether there was any chance Brussels would reopen the pact if an alliance of pro- and anti-Brexit forces votes it down in the House of Commons, Mr Juncker simply stressed “this is the best deal possible” – although summit chair Donald Tusk sounded more guarded, saying he did not want to consider hypotheticals.

Mrs May used a post-summit news conference to make a sales pitch for her plan, telling television viewers at home that it was the “only possible deal”, offering control of UK borders and budgets while maintaining close co-operation with EU regulations that was good for business and the security of the broader region.

“In any negotiation, you do not get everything you want. I think the British people understand that,” said Mrs May who arrived after the endorsement to voice hopes for continued close ties.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May arriving at the extraordinary EU leaders summit in Brussels. Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May arriving at the extraordinary EU leaders summit in Brussels. Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

Parliament’s vote could open the door to a “brighter future” or condemn the country to more division, she said. “I will make the case for this deal with all my heart,” she added, declining to answer whether she would resign if parliament rejects it.

‘Cliff-edge Brexit’

The alternative to the withdrawal treaty between the EU and the UK formally signed off in Brussels on Sunday morning is “no deal and a cliff-edge Brexit”, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said after the conclusion of the summit.

“It’s going to become more and more obvious that the alternative to this deal is a no deal scenario,” Mr Varadkar told reporters after EU leaders emerged from the European Council meeting.

Echoing other EU leaders, Mr Varadkar said that the withdrawal treaty is the “only deal that’s on the table”.

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arriving for the EU summit. Photograph: Piroschka van de Wouw/AP
The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arriving for the EU summit. Photograph: Piroschka van de Wouw/AP

“I hear a lot of people talking about better deals and alternative deals. And anyone can have a better deal or an alternative deal in their own minds but an agreement – 500 pages long, that 28 member states can sign up to – nobody has that,” he said.

Asked if he was ruling out any change to the exit mechanism from the backstop, which has emerged as a significant issue in London, the Taoiseach replied: “I am, and it’s not just me, it’s the entire European Union today was very much of the view there couldn’t be a renegotiation.

“You know, it wasn’t easy to get to this point. And once you start to open up one issue, you could potentially open up other issues as well. We saw in the last couple of days the extent to which Gibraltar could become an issue. Some countries were reluctant to accept that there will be a single customs territory between the EU and the UK because they feel that gives the UK preferential access to European markets.

“So you see that is the core difficulty with people who are arguing that there is a better deal on offer or a better deal can be negotiated. They don’t agree among themselves what a better deal could be, they probably wouldn’t have a majority in parliament for an alternative deal, and they certainly wouldn’t have 28 member states signed up to it,” he said.

“So really what’s being put before the European Parliament and the House of Commons is a deal – any other deal really only exists in people’s imaginations,” Mr Varadkar added.

Position of DUP

“There are almost as many alternatives as there are MPs. Any one of us could in our own minds dream up a perfect deal that would be better for us, but the whole point of any of these alternatives that are being mooted is that they would not command support of 28 member states ... These are just ideas that people have,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said that he understood the position of the Democratic Unionist Party, which props up Mrs May’s minority government, but he would “posit a counterview”.

He said that the deal agreed between the UK and the EU was “very much in line with the principles of the Good Friday agreement”.

He stressed that everyone accepted that Northern Ireland was and would remain part of the United Kingdom until such time as the people of Northern Ireland vote otherwise, but that because of its “unique history and unique geography” it had special arrangements “that on occasion make it a little different from the rest of the UK”.

Mr Varadkar said he believed Mrs May’s chances of passing the vote in the House of Commons would improve “as decision day approaches”.

German chancellor Angela Merkel, the bloc’s veteran guiding force, echoed that unwillingness to speculate on what she called a “historic day” that was both “tragic and sad”.

But Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose country chairs EU meetings until the end of the year, said there could be no more negotiations.

“There is no Plan B,” said Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte. “If anyone thinks in the United Kingdom that by voting No something better would come out of it, they are wrong.”

‘No time for champagne’

Amid praise for the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier’s team for bringing home a deal after 18 months of gruelling talks, Mr Juncker said it was “no time for champagne”, as one of Europe’s great powers walks out after its 2016 Brexit referendum. The harder work of building new relations now lies ahead, he added.

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (centre) chats to Austria’s chancellor Sebastian Kurtz (left) and European Council president Donald Tusk before this morning’s summit. Photograph: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (centre) chats to Austria’s chancellor Sebastian Kurtz (left) and European Council president Donald Tusk before this morning’s summit. Photograph: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images

The 27 leaders took barely half an hour to rubber-stamp the 600-page withdrawal treaty, aimed at an orderly exit on March 29th to be followed by two to three years of a status-quo transition period. The outline of a future trading and security partnership was just 26 pages long.

Mrs May’s critics say it leaves Britain tied to EU regulations that it will no longer have a say in setting. Her foreign minister, Jeremy Hunt, said that the Brexit deal was a “staging post” towards Britain getting everything it wanted from leaving the EU, but that the arithmetic for getting the deal approved was looking “challenging”.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said the deal was a “miserable failure of negotiation” which would put jobs at risk. Labour will oppose the package in parliament and work with MPs from other parties to block a no-deal Brexit, Mr Corbyn said.

Mr Tusk said the bloc was determined to have as close as possible a partnership with Britain, which has long been sceptical about EU integration: “We will remain friends until the end of days. And one day longer,” he said.

French president Emmanuel Macron said Britain’s Brexit vote showed Europe needed reform. He stressed that Paris would hold Britain to tight EU regulations, in return for giving it easy trade access. He also foreshadowed coming, fraught, negotiations by demanding access to British fishing grounds after Brexit.

The pound has strengthened since the deal came together over the past 10 days, but companies and investors remain nervous.

‘Review’

The DUP said it would try to block the deal because it binds London to many EU rules and the party fears it may weaken the province’s ties to Britain – a result of efforts to avoid a risk of a hard border on the island of Ireland.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said on Sunday she would “review” the agreement to back Mrs May’s Conservative government if the Brexit divorce is passed by Britain’s parliament.

Wrangling over how to keep open Northern Ireland’s land border with the EU dogged much of the Brexit talks.

Britain’s 300-year-old naval base in Gibraltar on Spain’s southern coast, had also threatened to derail plans. But prime minister Pedro Sanchez said he was satisfied with guarantees on Saturday of a say in Gibraltar’s future, saying on Sunday that Spain wanted to claim a share of sovereignty over “The Rock”. – Additional reporting: Agencies

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