Brexit: EU leaders approve Theresa May’s deal but warn it cannot be renegotiated

This is the only deal possible, says Jean-Claude Juncker

Jon Stone
Brussels
Sunday 25 November 2018 17:00 GMT
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Jean-Claude Juncker says MPs who vote down Theresa May's Brexit deal will be 'disappointed in the first second'

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EU leaders have approved Theresa May’s Brexit deal at a special summit in Brussels on Sunday, warning that it is “the only deal possible” within the prime minister’s red lines.

The signoff by the bloc paves the way for MPs to vote on the deal, with officials in Brussels told to expect MPs to make their decision on 10 or 11 December.

The 27 heads of state and government are understood to have avoided discussing what would happen if the deal was rejected by parliament, as now looks increasingly likely.

Officials privy to the private top-level meeting said the plan was adopted in “a matter of seconds” with one describing the short session as “solemn”.

Some EU chiefs gave emotional goodbyes to Britain, with council president Donald Tusk telling journalists: “Regardless of how it will all end, one thing is certain: we will remain friends until the end of days, and a day longer.”

But commission president Jean-Claude Juncker struck a starker tone, warning: “This is the best deal possible for Britain, this is the best deal possible for Europe, this is the only deal possible. The only deal possible.”

He added: “Those who think that by rejecting the deal that they would have a better deal will be disappointed in the first seconds after the rejection of this deal.”

Outside the summit, pro-Remain activists took a blowtorch to a mock copy of the withdrawal agreement, before they were asked to stop by Belgian police.

Speaking on the doorstep of the meeting, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said he did not expect MPs to reject the deal.

“I don’t expect a ‘no’ vote. I expect a ‘yes’ vote and this is the deal on the table. I don’t think there’s anything more,” he said.

Discussion about what to do in the event the deal was rejected was notable by its absence from the meeting, with one senior EU official saying there was “no appetite” for it after the gruelling slog to an agreement.

“I don’t think there were any ‘what if’ questions asked to Theresa May today, quite a few were wishing her good luck,” they said.

We don’t want to create the false impression for the UK that a better alternative deal is possible

Leo Varadkar

Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar said: “We made the conscious decision as 27 not to speculate on alternative scenarios.

“We don’t want to create the false impression for the UK that a better alternative deal is possible.”

Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz added: “It is important that everyone in the UK is aware of the fact that this agreement is the final result. It will definitely not be renegotiated and there will be no further leeway.”

The European Council conclusions released after the meeting specifically thanked chief negotiator Michel Barnier “for his tireless efforts as the Union’s chief negotiator and for his contribution to maintaining the unity among EU27 member states throughout the negotiations”.

EU leaders met among themselves without Theresa May, and were then joined by the British prime minister to discuss the deal once they had signed it off. The PM has been in Brussels since Saturday afternoon putting the finishing touches to the deal.

Among the final hurdles was the issue of Gibraltar. The UK conceded in writing that Spain should have a veto over whether any future trade deal applies to Gibraltar – potentially storing up trouble down the road. Spain wants any future relationship governing the British overseas territory to be negotiated bilaterally between itself and the UK.

Behind the scenes, officials in Brussels were delighted with the result, particularly the maintenance of EU unity in the face of British attempts to divide the bloc.

“Many member states have had very particular concerns which are all legitimate, and there has been a willingness to accommodate,” one EU source said.

“More fundamentally that says something about the nature of the union. The union stands up for its member states – like Spain, Ireland. This is the essence of the union. I would tend to borrow a slogan and say ‘Stronger In’.”

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