‘The only possible deal’: May starts hard sell of Brexit back home after EU approval
- Embattled British leader still faces struggles despite apparent victory in Brussels, where EU officials warned UK it has passed point of no return
After months of fraught talks, European Union leaders on Sunday finally approved a historic Brexit deal and now British Prime Minister Theresa May must convince her sceptical party and country to support it.
May described it as the “only possible deal” for the British parliament to vote on.
“If people think somehow there is another negotiation to be done, that is not the case,” she said in Brussels. “This is the deal that is on the table. This is the best possible deal. It is the only possible deal.”
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and other EU officials echoed May’s remarks.
“Those who think by rejecting the deal, will have a better deal, will be disappointed in the few seconds after rejecting the deal,” he said.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said: “It will certainly not be renegotiated.”
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel hailed the deal as a “piece of diplomatic art” but admitted it left her sad.
“This is a historic summit and also historic day that evokes ambivalent feelings,” she said. “It is tragic that Great Britain leaves the EU after 45 years.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said Britain’s Brexit vote showed Europe needed reform. He stressed Paris would hold Britain to tight EU regulations, in return for giving it easy trade access also warned of more tough talks over access to British fishing grounds after Brexit.
Forged during 17 months of tough negotiations, the withdrawal agreement covers financial matters, citizens’ rights, Northern Ireland’s border and arrangements for a 21-month post-Brexit transition phase.
The deal is expected to get passed when voted on in the European parliament.
But May faces a major battle to get the agreement through the House of Commons before Brexit day on March 29.
Parliament’s vote could open the door to a “brighter future” or condemn the country to more division, May told the media in Brussels. “I will make the case for this deal with all my heart,” she added, declining to answer whether she would resign if parliament rejects it.
Media reports suggested some of May’s ministers were secretly working with the EU on a “Plan B” in case it doesn’t get passed.
In London, members of May’s Conservative party and their Northern Irish allies the Democratic Unionist Party argue the agreement keeps Britain too close to the EU and have vowed to oppose it.
Asked on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show whether there were any condition under which the DUP could vote for the deal, leader Arlene Foster replied: “No, there aren’t.”
Foster declined to say whether her party would end support for May if the Brexit deal was passed by the Commons, only saying she would “review” the issue.
The DUP’s main objection to the plan is the so-called backstop arrangement, the insurance policy insisted on by the EU to avoid a hard Irish border which would see the return of checkpoints.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar welcomed the agreement, saying anybody who believes a better deal can be found is deluding themselves.
“Any other deal really only exists in people’s imaginations,” he said.
Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, The Guardian