‘It’s the best deal you’re going to get’

Theresa May. File picture
Theresa May. File picture
Image: AFP

European Union leaders warned the British parliament not to wreck Theresa May’s Brexit deal, saying a package agreed with the prime minister on Sunday was the best Britain was going to get.

“Those who think that, by rejecting the deal, they would get a better deal will be disappointed,” European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said after the 27 other EU leaders formally endorsed a treaty setting terms for British withdrawal in March and an outline of a future EU-UK trade pact.

Asked whether there was any chance Brussels would reopen the pact if an alliance of pro- and anti-Brexit forces voted it down in the House of Commons, Juncker simply stressed “this is the best deal possible” – though summit chair Donald Tusk was more guarded, saying he did not want to consider hypotheticals.

May used a post-summit news conference to make a sales pitch for her plan, telling television viewers at home that it was the “only possible deal”, offering control of UK borders and budgets while maintaining close co-operation with EU regulations that were good for business and regional security.

“In any negotiation, you do not get everything you want. I think the British people understand that,” May said.

Parliament’s vote could open the door to a brighter future or condemn the country to more division, she said.

“I will make the case for this deal with all my heart.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the bloc’s veteran guiding force, echoed that unwillingness to speculate on what she called a historic day that was both tragic and sad.

But Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose country chairs EU meetings till the end of 2018, said there could be no more negotiations.

“There is no Plan B,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said. “If anyone thinks in the United Kingdom that by voting ‘no’ something better would come out of it, they are wrong.”

Juncker said it was no time for champagne, as one of Europe’s great powers walks out.

The harder work of building new relations now lay ahead, he said.

The 27 leaders took barely half an hour to rubber-stamp the 600-page withdrawal treaty, aimed at an orderly exit on March 29 to be followed by two to three years of a status quo transition period.

The outline of a future trading and security partnership was just 26 pages long.

May’s critics say it leaves Britain tied to EU regulations that it will no longer have a say in setting.

British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said the deal was a staging post towards Britain getting everything it wanted from leaving the EU, but that the arithmetic for getting the deal approved was looking challenging.

Tusk, the European Council president, said the bloc was determined to have as close as possible a partnership with Britain.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Britain’s Brexit vote showed Europe needed reform. He stressed that Paris would hold Britain to tight EU regulations, in return for easy trade access.

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party said it would try to block the deal because it binds London to too many EU rules.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said on Sunday she would review the agreement to back May’s Conservative government if the Brexit divorce was passed by parliament.

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