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EU leaders urge MPs to back May after approving Brexit deal

Jean-Claude Juncker welcoming Theresa May to Brussels for Sunday’s summit (Reuters)
Jean-Claude Juncker welcoming Theresa May to Brussels for Sunday’s summit (Reuters)

European Union leaders have approved UK’s withdrawal agreement with the bloc and have urged the British public and politicians to back prime minister Theresa May over the Brexit deal.

After almost 18 months of tough negotiations, leaders of the 27 nations took just 38 minutes to approve the deal at a summit in Brussels today.

European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said it was “a sad day” but described the agreement as the “best possible” deal for both sides. After delivering their seal of approval, EU leaders immediately turned their attention to helping May get the deal through the UK parliament.

Juncker told journalists: “I’m inviting those who have to ratify this deal in the House of Commons to take this into consideration: 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.”

MORE: May vows to ‘stand by’ Gibraltar after accusation of caving in to Spain

Asked whether pro-EU MPs could help the UK stay in the EU by voting down the deal, Juncker replied: “I’m totally convinced that this is the only deal possible. 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.”

Other EU leaders also stressed that this deal is their final offer. Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said: “I do think Theresa May has fought very hard and if I would live in the UK I would say yes to this. I would say this is acceptable for the UK…this is the max that we can do.”

Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar said leaders had taken a concious decision not to consider the possible failure of this deal, stressing: “There is no plan B.” Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz said: “One thing is clear. There will be no further negotiations.”

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said: “We have reached a fair and balanced agreement with the UK. This is the best deal possible given the circumstances. It’s time for everybody to take their responsibilities.”

Donald Tusk with Theresa May at Sunday’s special Brexit summit in Brussels (Reuters)
Donald Tusk with Theresa May at Sunday’s special Brexit summit in Brussels (Reuters)

However outspoken Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite veered off the official script, saying “everything could happen” when asked about the possibility of MPs rejecting the deal.

She raised the possibility of a second referendum, a general election or a request to reopen negotiations. Asked for her preference, she said only: “We would like to see everything settled as soon as possible.”

European leaders are deeply “irritated” with Spain for raising last minute objections to the deal over Gibraltar, which were resolved in an eleventh hour compromise on Saturday evening.

One EU diplomat said their complaints had “no factual justification whatsoever” and said the assurances received by Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez were not legally binding.

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“I hope that they haven’t made it more difficult for May in parliament because she has it difficult enough already,” they added. “If that would tip it over the balance that would be very unfortunate, very unfortunate.”

While UK MPs present a possible roadblock to concluding the deal, the European parliament’s president, Antonio Tajani, predicted its members would sign-off the deal by February.

“We will vote probably in favour of the agreement, there is a majority,” said the Italian. “This is a message to our friends in the British parliament because this is a good agreement for both – for the United Kingdom and the European Union.”

Tajani told Yahoo Finance UK that he has invited May to address the European parliament ahead of their vote.