Posted on: Politico | November 25th, 2018
Authors: Αddy Wax, Jacopo Barigazzi, Eline Schaart
EU leaders approved a Brexit deal agreed with the U.K. government at a special summit Sunday, but warned that there could be no meaningful renegotiation of the agreement, even if the British parliament rejects it.
The deal on the table, the product of a year and a half of complex and sometimes fractious negotiations, was “the best possible” and the EU “will not change its fundamental position,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, arriving at the European Council meeting Sunday.
“I do think that the British parliament, because this is a wise parliament, will ratify this deal,” he added.
The British and European parliaments must both ratify the deal — a 585-page legally-binding Withdrawal Agreement, and a 26-page Political Declaration setting the outline of the future relationship — before it can come into force. British MPs are expected to vote in the second week of December.
U.K. prime minister Theresa May, facing a rebellion from MPs in her own party, is yet to command a parliamentary majority in support of the deal. The growing likelihood of a no vote has led to speculation that May could be forced back to the negotiating table.
May released what she called “my letter to the nation” Sunday in which she made an appeal over the heads of U.K. politicians directly to voters for them to back the deal. “It is a deal for a brighter future, which enables us to seize the opportunities which lie ahead,” she wrote, describing a series of EU policies that had failed the U.K., including the bloc’s Common Agricultural Policy, which Britain would soon be free of.
At the summit, EU leaders gave their endorsement to the deal after just over half an hour of discussion. Council President Donald Tusk tweeted, “EU27 has endorsed the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration on the future EU-UK relations.”
The official summit conclusions state: “The European Council restates the Union’s determination to have as close as possible a partnership with the United Kingdom in the future.”
But on their way into the meeting, leaders echoed Juncker’s insistence that the deal could not be revisited.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said of the deal “it will certainly not be renegotiated and there is no leeway.” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the agreement represented “the max” that negotiators can achieve, as he appealed to British MPs to ratify the deal.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven offered the possibility of an extension to the Article 50 process and tweaks to the deal text, but ruled out “major negotiations” in the event of a no vote in the U.K. parliament.
And speaking at a press conference during the summit, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said it would be “impossible to reopen the text” of the agreement, even if MPs in the U.K. voted against. He said the European Parliament could hold its own vote on the deal even if that happens — most likely in February or March because of the time needed to translate the text.
Amid a somber mood a the summit, which marks the formal end of the withdrawal stage of the Brexit negotiation, French President Emmanuel Macron said “It’s neither an opportunity to rejoice nor a day of mourning. It’s the choice of a sovereign people. It’s a time for dignity and responsibility.”
He said the summit was “an important step” but added that it showed the “European Union has an element of fragility and that clearly it’s still perfectible and improvable.”
His German counterpart Chancellor Angela Merkel entered the summit without offering any comments to waiting reporters.
As late as Saturday, the deal had looked in jeopardy because of last minute objections from Spain over the status of Gibraltar in ongoing talks about the U.K.’s future relationship with the bloc. Those were resolved thanks to an clarification by the U.K. of its legal interpretation of the Withdrawal Agreement text.
Arriving at the summit, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė said leaders would endorse the agreement. Asked how Spain had been persuaded she said: “Usually there are some — I can joke — tricks. We promised to promise … usually now we promise we deliver. Sooner or later.”
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, also appeared to be sending a message to U.K. MPs, telling reporters on arrival at the summit that the deal was a “necessary step,” praising the negotiating teams and adding: “Now it’s time for everybody to take their responsibility. Everybody.”
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar commended the deal but said the best outcome would be for the U.K. stay in the EU. “We spent 2 years trying to negotiate an agreement that protects our interests, our citizens and our economy, and I believe we have that,” he said.