Britain secured a Brexit deal with the European Union on Thursday, more than three years after Britons voted to leave the bloc, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson must still win a knife-edge vote in Parliament to get the agreement approved.
“Where there is a will there is a deal — we have one!” European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said in a tweet a few hours before the start of an EU summit in Brussels.
Talks to begin
At a news conference with Mr. Johnson, Mr. Juncker said the deal meant there would be no need for a further delay to Britain’s departure, and negotiations on the future relationship between Britain and the EU would begin as soon as the deal was approved by the U.K. and European Parliaments.
“Now is the moment for us to get Brexit done and then together to work on building our future partnership, which I think can be incredibly positive both for the U.K. and for the EU,” Mr. Johnson said, praising Mr. Juncker and the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, for their efforts.
Later in the day, the EU endorsed the deal. European Council president Donald Tusk said, “It looks like we are very close to the final stretch.”
Mr. Johnson must now secure approval for the agreement in an extraordinary session of Parliament on Saturday, which would pave the way for an orderly departure on October 31. But getting the votes is uncertain.
The Northern Irish party that Mr. Johnson needs to help ratify any agreement, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), has refused to support it, saying it is not in Northern Ireland’s interests.
The head of the main Opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, said he was “unhappy” with the agreement and would vote against it. Labour has said it wants any deal to be subject to a public vote, but has not indicated whether it will back any move for a second referendum on Saturday.
Negotiators worked frantically this week to agree to a compromise on the question of the border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.
The conundrum was how to prevent the frontier becoming a backdoor into the EU’s single market without erecting checkpoints that could undermine the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of conflict in the province.
The agreement will keep Northern Ireland in the U.K. customs area, but tariffs will apply to goods crossing from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland if they are headed to Ireland and into the bloc’s single market.
The agreement scraps the “backstop”, a mechanism envisaged earlier to prevent a hard border being introduced on the island of Ireland, and would have bound Britain to some EU rules.
However, the DUP, which supports Mr. Johnson’s government, said the new text was not acceptable — a step that could spur hardline Brexiteers in his Conservative party to oppose ratification.