Brexit: Regret and relief in Brussels as EU approves deal

There was an element of Groundhog Day about proceedings in the EU capital

Jon Stone
Thursday 17 October 2019 21:03
The Donald Tusk–Jean-Claude Juncker double act will be familiar to anyone who has followed Brexit closely
The Donald Tusk–Jean-Claude Juncker double act will be familiar to anyone who has followed Brexit closely

The Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk double act will be familiar to anyone who has been following Brexit closely. The two leaders have a good-cop/bad-cop routine, and on Thursday night it was in full swing.

Taking to the stage fresh from signing a new deal they had always said they would never sign, the pair of leaders were asked what their message for the 48 per cent of the British public who voted remain was.

Donald Tusk's reply was almost wistful: "I regret that it was only 48 not 52," he sighed.

Jean-Claude Juncker, a grin on his face and just couple of weeks left in the job, had no intention of being diplomatic: "I would like to say to the 48 that they were right."

Regret and relief were found in equal measure in the EU capital after leaders unanimously approved Boris Johnson's new Brexit deal.

Leo Varadkar was almost Tolkienesque, telling reporters: "It's a little bit like an old friend that's going on a journey or adventure without us, and we really hope it works out for them, but I think there will always be a place at the table for them if they ever choose to come back."

British journalists had expected the summit to be yet another all-nighter: as many travelling over from London boarded their Eurostars, a deal seemed further away than the day ahead of them was long. By the time they stepped off onto the platform at Brussels' Gare Midi, one had been signed between negotiators.

There had been talk of the Brexit part of the summit being shifted back to Friday or even Saturday while talks continued on the other side of the road in the European Commission: that talk immediately evaporated, and events became more straightforward. The veil of uncertainty had been lifted.

And yet, there was an element of Groundhog Day about proceedings. Most converging on Brussels were also there for Theresa May's triumphant day, when Boris Johnson's predecessor secured her own Brexit deal against the odds. As the former prime minister will no doubt be remarking at home this evening, there's a big difference between getting a deal and getting one through parliament. The Brexit circus may well roll back into town again.

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