Brexit withdrawal agreement approved by EU leaders
- European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker reiterated his sadness at the U.K.’s departure, telling reporters in the Belgian capital that it was a “tragedy.”
- But he backed May’s plan and said it was the best deal possible for Britain.
- Other European leaders also spoke favorably of the agreement, with Dutch leader Mark Rutte saying it was balanced on both sides.
EU leaders backed Theresa May’s Brexit withdrawal agreement on Sunday, setting up a showdown with lawmakers in her own country as the U.K. leader nears a crucial vote on her proposals.
European leaders gathered in Brussels officially endorsed her plan on how the U.K. will leave the bloc in March of next year. The special summit was largely symbolic and the agreement was widely expected to be approved, despite last-minute concerns from Spain on whether it will have a say on the future of Gibraltar — a disputed British territory that lies on the southern tip of the Mediterranean nation.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker reiterated his sadness at the U.K.’s departure, telling reporters in the Belgian capital that it was a “tragedy.” But he backed May’s plan and said it was the best deal possible for Britain. Other European leaders also spoke favorably of the agreement, with Dutch leader Mark Rutte saying it was balanced on both sides.
But the EU’s acceptance of the deal has enraged some pro-Brexit politicians in the U.K. who believe that May is making too many concessions to the EU. May faces a tough challenge next month when she needs to gain Parliamentary approval for the deal in Westminster. The vote — likely to be on December 11 — is crucial for May to move forward with Brexit and failure could lead to her being toppled as leader or even the U.K. crashing out of the EU without a deal. On Sunday, she appeared to swerve questions from reporters on whether she would resign if the deal was rejected by Parliament.
What’s been approved?
The endorsement from the 27 EU leaders follows more than 18 months of negotiations between the two sides. Talks began when the U.K. triggered Article 50 in the wake of the 2016 referendum vote and the country is due to leave the EU on March 29, 2019.
There was no formal vote at the fairly short Brexit summit on Sunday morning. But the leaders approved May’s withdrawal agreement, which is a 585-page, legally-binding document setting out the terms of the U.K.’s exit. It does not address any future relationship between the U.K. and the EU but rather issues such as citizens’ rights, a £39 billion ($50 billion) “divorce bill” and a backup plan for the Irish border if upcoming trade talks stall.
Also on Sunday, the 27 EU leaders agreed on a separate political declaration which loosely outlines future issues such as U.K.-EU trade and security.
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