Leaders of 27 European Union nations sign off on Brexit deal

Vidya Ram London | Updated on November 25, 2018

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Spotlight back on UK Parliament

A year and a half of negotiations on the terms of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union (EU) formally came to an end on Sunday, as leaders of the Union’s 27 member-nations agreed to the terms of the controversial agreement at a summit in Brussels.

The approval comes after Britain and Spain reached an agreement on the status of Gibraltar, removing a last-minute dispute that threatened to jeopardise the deal. However, it is far from the end of the battle for Britain’s Conservative government, which faces stiff opposition within its own ranks and from other political parties, who could vote down the deal as it passes through the parliamentary approval process.

‘To remain partners’

Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, announced that the EU-27 leaders had endorsed the withdrawal agreement and the non-binding political declaration of future relations between the EU and the UK. “We will remain partners, allies, friends,” said Michel Barnier, the lead EU negotiator, at the start of the summit on Sunday.

The course to the Sunday summit appeared set last week, after negotiators on both sides reached agreements on the terms of the treaty and the political declaration. However, uncertainty returned as Spain expressed its concerns about the inclusion of Gibraltar in the withdrawal agreement and threatened to exert its veto unless there were assurances that the territory would be the subject of separate bilateral negotiations between Spain and the UK.

A compromise has since been reached, which Spain has touted as a concession by Britain (a suggestion Britain has, in turn, rebutted), resulting in the Spanish government withdrawing its opposition.

However, the significant developments in Brussels will now put the spotlight firmly back on Westminster, and the government’s ability to persuade Parliament to approve the deal later this year. Over the past week, as opposition to the deal has increased within Parliament, Theresa May has attempted to reach out to the public and business in the UK to get them on her side. On Saturday, she published an open letter to the public urging “renewal and reconciliation” and for people to get behind the deal. She insisted the deal that worked for both “Leave” and “Remain” supporters.

However, parliamentary opponents show no sign of backing down, calling for the removal of the controversial “backstop” mechanism to ensure there isn’t a danger of a hard border developing in Northern Ireland.

While Conservatives believe the backstop’s existence prevents Britain from truly taking back control (and at the same time leaving Britain without a voice at the table), the DUP of Northern Ireland believes it would threaten the country’s territorial sovereignty.

Speaking on the BBC on Sunday morning, the party’s leader Arlene Foster indicated they would vote against the deal and urged the government to return to the negotiating table to avoid this, and warned that the confidence and supply agreement, under which it has been supporting the Conservative government. The Labour Party also insists the deal represents the “worst of all worlds.” “It gives us less say over our future, and puts job and living standards at risk,” said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Speaking in Brussels, however, May insisted the deal was the best one available to the UK, and urged parliamentarians to back it and avoid any move that would “open the door to yet more division and uncertainty.” EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker also indicated that there was no further possibility for further concessions from the EU side. “The European Union will not change its fundamental position,” he said.

Published on November 25, 2018

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