EU leaders approve Brexit deal with UK

European leaders formally endorse Brexit texts, paving the way for British parliamentary vote next month.

European Union leaders formally agreed a Brexit deal at a Brussels summit on Sunday, urging Britons to back Prime Minister Theresa May’s package, which faces furious opposition in the British parliament.

The 27 leaders took barely half an hour to rubber-stamp a 600-page treaty setting terms for the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union on March 29 and a 26-page declaration outlining ambitions for a future free trading relationship.

The President of the European Council Donald Tusk announced the agreement on Twitter:

“This is the deal,” European Union chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters on his way in to the meeting, saying he believed May would get it through parliament and ruling out big new concessions.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said now that the first phase was done, Britain and the EU needed to work for “an ambitious and unprecedented partnership.”

“Now is the time for everybody to take their responsibility — everybody,” he said.

Juncker called it “a sad day”, saying Brexit was a “tragedy” and tough on both sides.

“I believe that the British government will succeed in securing the backing of the British parliament,” Juncker said, declining to comment on what might happen if May fails.

“I would vote in favour of this deal because this is the best deal possible for Britain,” he added.

In a sign of worries ahead, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite tweeted after the deal was endorsed in the summit chamber that the exit process was “far from over”.

Barnier called the package a basis for close future ties, insisting: “We will remain allies, partners and friends.”

Domestic test

The biggest question now facing the European Union is whether May’s divided minority government can steer the deal, which foresees London following many EU rules to keep easy trade access, through fierce resistance in parliament in the coming weeks from both supporters and opponents of Brexit.

Speaking before the deal was endorsed, Grybauskaite said there were at least four possible outcomes if parliament blocks the package.

She named three – that Britons would hold a second referendum, hold a new election to replace May or return to Brussels to try and renegotiate the package. A fourth is that Britain will simply crash out of the bloc on March 29 without legal clarity.

Both sides have been making preparations for such a “no deal” scenario, though the EU insists Britain has more to lose.

The Democratic Unionist Party, whose votes from Northern Ireland have helped May to govern since she lost her majority in a misjudged snap election last year, said it would try to block a Brexit deal it called “pitiful” – partly because it binds London to many EU rules it will no longer help set and partly as the DUP fears it could weaken the province’s ties to Britain.

No one knows what will happen if parliament rejects May’s plan, which she and EU leaders say is the best deal available.

In an open letter to the UK, published on Sunday, May said she would campaign “heart and soul” to get her Brexit deal through: “It will be a deal that is in our national interest – one that works for our whole country and all of our people, whether you voted Leave or Remain,” she said.

Wrangling over how to keep open troubled Northern Ireland’s land border with the EU without creating disruptive customs barriers with the Irish Republic dogged much of the 18 months of talks before accords were struck this month.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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