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EU tells May’s critics: this deal is the 'best we can do'

Luke James
Brussels correspondent
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier presenting the Withdrawal Agreement (Reuters)

The EU is fighting back against British critics of the draft Brexit deal, insisting it is the best they can offer.

Senior figures from the European Commission and parliament have weighed in behind Theresa May’s efforts to sell the deal to sceptics from both sides of the Brexit debate.

The prime minister told MPs to “unite and support the best deal that can be negotiated” during a dramatic debate of almost three hours at Westminster.

Her efforts have been set back by rolling resignations from the government as well as threats from opposition parties to vote against the deal.

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Many Conservatives want further concessions from the EU, while pro-EU parties believe talks should be reopened to achieve a closer relationship.

But, speaking in Strasbourg, European parliament Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt said: “What is delivered today on our table is the best agreement we could obtain taking into account the positions of the UK.

“What this deal is doing is combining Brexit, because that was the decision of the British people, with a scenario that avoids disruption and a disaster for the economies – for the EU and certainly for the UK economy. So, it’s a very important achievement.

“It minimises disruption on both sides and I think that’s important for our economy, for our businesses for our citizens.”

Michel Barnier with the European parliament’s president, Antonio Tajani, and its Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt (European parliament)

European parliament president Antonio Tajani said the Withdrawal Agreement will “pave the way towards a close future EU-UK relationship.”

Although, he added: “This agreement should reflect that any outcome will be inferior to full membership.”

Meanwhile in Brussels, a senior EU official refused to speculate about what would happen if the draft deal being voted down by MPs and warned the EU has “exhausted our margin for manoeuvre.”

“A lot of people on both sides of this negotiation have spent a lot of time and effort on this,” they said.

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“We think that this is the best we can do collectively with the constraints we have on both sides.”

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier again urged critics to read all 585 pages of the agreement in detail before coming to a conclusion.

On Wednesday he urged MPs to “take their responsibility” for securing a Brexit deal.

European Council president Donald Tusk has called an emergency summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Sunday 25 November to “finalise and formalise the deal” – as long as “nothing extraordinary happens” in between.

He refused to comment on events in London but added mischievously that the EU is “best prepared for a no-Brexit scenario.”