British Prime Minister Theresa May says the UK parliament will vote on the divorce deal with the European Union before Christmas.
May says Sunday’s signing-off on the agreement by the EU marks the end of one phase and the start of a “crucial national debate” on Britain’s future.
She said she will fight “heart and soul” to get backing for the deal, which faces huge opposition among her Conservative MPs as well as the opposition.
“I think we have a duty as a parliament … to deliver Brexit,” May said on Sunday.
Earlier, EU leaders formally agreed a Brexit deal at a Brussels summit, urging Britons to back May’s package.
“EU27 has endorsed the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration on the future EU-UK relations,” chairman Donald Tusk told the leaders’ summit on Sunday.
The 27 leaders took barely half an hour to rubber-stamp a 600-page treaty setting terms for Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union on March 29 and a 26-page declaration outlining a future free trading relationship. May joined them shortly afterwards for what will be a brief meeting to seal the accord.
“This is the deal,” European Union chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters on his way in to the meeting, 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.
Barnier called the package a basis for close future ties, insisting: “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 sceptical of deeper EU integration was, Macron said, neither a moment for celebration nor mourning, but Britons’ free choice.
The biggest question now facing the EU is whether May’s divided minority government can steer the deal, which foresees London following many EU rules to keep easy trade access, through fierce resistance in parliament in the coming weeks from both supporters and opponents of Brexit.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said there were at least four possible outcomes if parliament blocks the package. She named three – that Britons would hold a second referendum, hold a new election to replace May or return to Brussels to try and renegotiate the package. A fourth is that Britain will simply crash out of the bloc on March 29 without legal clarity.