EU seals Brexit deal as May faces a hard sell at home

BRUSSELS — After months of hesitation, stop-and-start negotiations and resignations, Britain and the European Union on Sunday finally sealed an agreement governing the U.K.’s departure from the bloc next year.

So much for the easy part.

British Prime Minister Theresa May must now sell the deal to her divided Parliament — a huge task considering the intense opposition from pro-Brexit and pro-EU lawmakers alike — to ensure Britain can leave with a minimum of upheaval on March 29.

It’s a hard sell. The agreement leaves Britain outside the EU with no say but still subject to its rules and the obligations of membership at least until the end of 2020, possibly longer. Britons voted to leave in June 2016, largely over concerns about immigration and losing sovereignty to Brussels.

EU leaders were quick to warn that no better offer is available.

“I am totally convinced this is the only deal possible,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said. “Those who think that by rejecting the deal that they would have a better deal will be disappointed the first seconds after the rejection.”

For once, May was in complete agreement.

“This is the deal that is on the table,” she said. “It is the best possible deal. It is the only deal.”

Acknowledging the vast political and economic consequences of Brexit, May promised lawmakers their say before Christmas and said that it “will be one of the most significant votes that Parliament has held for many years.”

She argued that Parliament has a duty “to deliver Brexit” as voters have demanded.

“The British people don’t want to spend any more time arguing about Brexit,” she said. “They want a good deal done that fulfils the vote and allows us to come together again as a country.”

Not all agree. Main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn called the deal “the result of a miserable failure of negotiation that leaves us with the worst of all worlds,” and said his party would oppose it. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, whose Scottish National Party is the third-largest in Parliament, said lawmakers “should reject it and back a better alternative.”

Pro-Brexit former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said May should insist on new terms because the deal “has ceded too much control” to Brussels.

On the EU side, the last big obstacle to a deal with Britain was overcome Saturday when Spain lifted its objections over the disputed British territory of Gibraltar.

So it took EU leaders only a matter of minutes at Sunday’s summit in Brussels to endorse the withdrawal agreement that settles Britain’s divorce bill, protects the rights of U.K. and EU citizens hit by Brexit and keeps the Irish border open. They also backed a 26-page document laying out their aims for relations after Brexit.

Still, the event was tinged with sadness on the European side at Britain’s departure, the first time a country will leave the 28-nation bloc.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her feelings were “ambivalent, with sadness, but on the other hand, also some kind of relief that we made it to this point.”

“I think we managed to make a diplomatic piece of art,” she said.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the deal — the product of a year and a half of often- grueling negotiations — was regrettable but acceptable.

“I believe that nobody is winning. We are all losing because of the U.K. leaving,” Rutte said. “But given that context, this is a balanced outcome with no political winners.”

May said she wasn’t sad, because Britain and the EU would remain “friends and neighbours.”

“I recognize some European leaders are sad at this moment, but also some people back at home in the U.K. will be sad at this moment,” she told reporters, but insisted that she was “full of optimism” about Britain’s future.

The European Parliament, meanwhile, will be in full campaign mode a few months ahead of the EU elections when Europe’s lawmakers sit to endorse the agreement, probably in February, but perhaps as late as March, according to the assembly’s president, Antonio Tajani.

Still, Tajani said a “large majority” of European parliamentarians support the deal.

Many predict it will fail in the British Parliament. No one can be sure whether that would lead to the fall of the government, a new referendum, a postponement of Brexit or a chaotic “no deal” exit for Britain.

But Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said he thought May’s chances of getting the agreement through Parliament were strong.

He said British lawmakers would see that “the alternative is a no deal, cliff-edge Brexit, which is something of course that we all want to avoid.”

“Any other deal really only exists in people’s imaginations,” he added.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A server wears a mask at a restaurant, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Health officials receive thousands of COVID-related complaints

About 800 to 1,000 people call health officials weekly

Shaun Janse van Rensburg, a Red Deer resident, said he is tired of changing clocks twice a year. Photo by Mamta Lulla/Advocate staff
After COVID, Kenney may consider referendum on daylight savings

Albertans may be divided on several issues today, but there’s a consensus… Continue reading

The COVID-19 death toll in Alberta reached 309, according to numbers posted on the province’s website Tuesday. (Image courtesy CDC)
Another 422 COVID cases reported in Alberta and two more deaths

The Alberta government reported 422 COVID-19 cases Tuesday and two more virus… Continue reading

test tube with the blood test is on the table next to the documents. Positive test for coronavirus covid-19. The concept of fighting a dangerous Chinese disease.
COVID-19 death toll verges on 10,000 as second wave continues to surge

Nearly 10,000 Canadians have died due to COVID-19, a mark of the… Continue reading

The Red Deer RCMP has filed another set of charges after an alleged assault at an anti-racism rally on Sept. 20. (File photo by Advocate Staff)
More assault charges filed after Sept. 20 anti-racism rally in Red Deer

Trevor Lyle Roy faces a second set of charges stemming from the event

Alice Kolisnyk, deputy director of the Red Deer Food Bank, says the agency expects an increase in demand as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Every new subscription to the Red Deer Advocate includes a $50 donation to the food bank. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Support the food bank with a subscription to the Red Deer Advocate

The community’s most vulnerable members are always in need of a hand,… Continue reading

UN urges Libyan rivals to implement cease-fire, pursue peace

UN urges Libyan rivals to implement cease-fire, pursue peace

Tourists walk on the beach as the tail end of Hurricane Zeta makes landfall in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, early Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2020. Zeta is leaving Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula on a path that could hit New Orleans Wednesday night. (AP Photo/Tomas Stargardter)
Gulf Coast braces, again, for hurricane as Zeta takes aim

Gulf Coast braces, again, for hurricane as Zeta takes aim

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at HoverTech International, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, in Allentown, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Biden vows his unity can save country; Trump hits Midwest

Biden vows his unity can save country; Trump hits Midwest

FILE - In this Tuesday, May 7, 2019, file courtroom drawing, defendant Keith Raniere, center, leader of the secretive group NXIVM, is seated between his attorneys Paul DerOhannesian, left, and Marc Agnifilo during the first day of his sex trafficking trial. Raniere, a self-improvement guru whose organization NXIVM attracted millionaires and actresses among its adherents, faces sentencing Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, on convictions that he turned some female followers into sex slaves branded with his initials. (Elizabeth Williams via AP, File)
NXIVM guru gets 120 years in prison in sex-slaves case

NXIVM guru gets 120 years in prison in sex-slaves case

FILE - In this Oct. 26, 2020, file photo, pro-democracy demonstrators march to the German Embassy in central Bangkok, Thailand. Fed up with an archaic educational system and enraged by the military's efforts to keep control over their nation, a student-led campaign has shaken Thailand’s ruling establishment with the most significant campaign for political change in years. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe, File)
Thai student-protesters aim for ambitious political change

Thai student-protesters aim for ambitious political change

Reimagining ‘The Craft’ for a new batch of aspiring witches

Reimagining ‘The Craft’ for a new batch of aspiring witches

Fresh Air Experience owner Jon Digney poses for a photo in his store Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Businesses, cities look to give Canadians outdoor rec options during pandemic winter

Businesses, cities look to give Canadians outdoor rec options during pandemic winter

Most Read