European Union leaders of the 27 states staying on together after Britain leaves the bloc on Sunday endorsed their Brexit deal with London, chairman Donald Tusk said.
“EU27 has endorsed the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration on the future EU-UK relations,” Tusk said after less than an hour of the leaders’ summit.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite also said after the session: “Brexit deal endorsed, but exit process far from over.”
The 27 leaders adopted an official statement in which they also committed “to take the necessary steps to ensure that the agreement can enter into force on 30 March 2019, so as to provide for an orderly withdrawal.”
The statement also promised “as close as possible a partnership with the United Kingdom” after Britain leaves on March 29, 2019, and thanked Michel Barnier, the bloc’s Brexit negotiator.
They urged the UK parliament to back the deal as well. But the deal faces furious opposition in the parliament and may not go through.
“This is the deal,” European Union chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters, saying he believed May would get it through parliament and ruling out big new concessions.
“Now it is time for everybody to take responsibility — everybody,” said Michel Barnier, the Frenchman who has ground out the withdrawal treaty over the past 18 months.
Juncker called it “a sad day”, saying Brexit was a “tragedy” and tough on both sides.
“I believe that the British government will succeed in securing the backing of the British parliament,” Juncker said, declining to comment on what might happen if May fails.
“I would vote in favour of this deal because this is the best deal possible for Britain,” he added.
“This is the deal. It is the best deal possible and the European Union will not change its fundamental position when it comes to this issue.”
Barnier described the 600-page treaty setting terms for Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union on March 29 as a good base to negotiate a future relationship, a 26-page outline of which the leaders will also agree with May. But he insisted: “We will remain allies, partners and friends.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said the Brexit vote showed Europe needed reform. He stressed that Paris would hold Britain to tight EU regulations, notably on the environment, in return for giving it easy trade access.
The departure of a nation long skeptical of deeper EU integration was, Macron said, neither a moment for celebration nor mourning, but Britons’ free choice.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose country is one of Britain’s closest trading partners, praised May’s handling of the difficult negotiations and said he was confident that she could see the deal through parliament in the coming weeks.
But he also had a warning for those in May’s Conservative party as well as the Labour opposition who argue that a better deal can still be done before Britain leaves in four months if lawmakers deny her minority government support on Brexit.
“This is the maximum we can all do,” Rutte said, shaking his head when asked if the EU might make more concessions.
Saying the EU “hates” Brexit, Rutte said: “Nobody’s winning — we are all losing.” But, he said, the deal was an acceptable compromise for all that gave May a chance to clinch a solution.