EU leaders back Theresa May’s Brexit deal in Brussels

Summit offers unanimous support while marking ‘moment of deep sadness’ at the EU extra Summit in Brussels today.

EU leaders have given their backing to the Brexit deal struck with Theresa May, firing the starting pistol on the prime minister’s race to win parliamentary approval in time for the UK’s withdrawal next March.

At an extraordinary summit in Brussels, the bloc’s 27 heads of state and government took a decisive and historic step towards sealing the terms of Britain’s split from Brussels after 44 years of membership.

Unanimous support was given to the terms of a voluminous draft withdrawal treaty, covering citizens’ rights, the £39bn divorce bill, and the Irish border issue, along with a 26-page political declaration setting out the basis of the future relationship.

In a statement, the EU’s leaders stated their intention to build “as close as possible a partnership” with the UK after Brexit, while warning that they would be “permanently seized” in future negotiations by the principle that countries outside the bloc cannot enjoy the same rights as those within.

Brussels has already rejected the proposals thrashed out this summer at Chequers, the prime minister’s country retreat, to achieve “frictionless trade” in goods after Brexit.

Further statements issued on Sunday morning by the 27 EU leaders laid out their intention to maintain the rights of European fleets to fish in British waters.

There was a thinly veiled threat to block any transition extension unless a new arrangement with Brussels was swiftly agreed by the government.

Arriving at the summit, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, nevertheless advised MPs to vote for the deal on the table, suggesting that a “no” vote could damage negotiations on the future relationship.

“Now it is time for everybody to take their responsibilities, everybody,” he said. The deal was “a necessary step to build the trust between the UK and the EU” to build “an unprecedented and ambitious future partnership”.