EU leaders seal Brexit deal, urge Britons to back May

European Union leaders formally agree a Brexit deal at a Brussels summit, urging Britons to back Prime Minister Theresa May's package, which faces furious opposition in the British parliament.
British Prime Minister Theresa May gives a press conference at the end of European council in Brussels, Belgium, on Nov 25, 2018.
British Prime Minister Theresa May gives a press conference at the end of European council in Brussels, Belgium, on Nov 25, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

British PM now faces struggle to get package through a deeply divided Parliament

BRUSSELS • European Union leaders formally agreed on a Brexit deal yesterday and urged Britons to back Prime Minister Theresa May's package in the face of furious opposition in the British Parliament.

The 27 leaders took barely half an hour at a summit in Brussels to rubber-stamp a 600-page treaty setting the terms of Britain's withdrawal from the EU on March 29 next year, and a 26-page declaration outlining a future free trading relationship.

Mrs May, who joined them shortly after the brief meeting to seal the accord, now faces a struggle to get the deal, which has angered eurosceptics and EU supporters alike, through a deeply divided British Parliament.

She told reporters after the deal's approval by the EU leaders: "If people think there is somehow another negotiation to be done, that is not the case.

"This is the deal that is on the table, this is the best possible deal, it's the only possible deal."

Any hope that Mrs May could clinch concessions to try to win over her critics was crushed by EU leaders.

"This is the deal," European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said on his way into the meeting.

 
 
 
 

"I believe that the British government will succeed in securing the backing of the British Parliament," he added, declining to comment on what might happen if Mrs May fails.

"This is the best deal possible for Britain," he said.

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

The small Northern Irish party that props up Mrs May's Conservatives-led government has said it will vote against the draft Brexit deal.

If the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) goes ahead with its threat, Mrs May would be short of a working majority in the 650-seat Parliament: 316 active lawmakers elected as Conservatives would face 313 on the opposition benches plus the 10 DUP lawmakers.

The main opposition Labour Party will oppose the deal in Parliament, its leader Jeremy Corbyn said yesterday.

In a sign of worries ahead, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said the exit process was "far from over".

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte had a warning for those in Mrs May's Conservative party as well as the Labour opposition who argue that a better deal can still be done before Britain leaves in four months.

"This is the maximum we can all do," he said.

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

The package foresees little changing during a transition period lasting another two to four years.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2018, with the headline 'EU leaders seal Brexit deal, urge Britons to back May'. Print Edition | Subscribe