European Union leaders on Sunday approved a historic Brexit deal, holding out hopes of close future ties even as one declared Britain’s withdrawal after four decades a “tragedy”.
The 27 leaders of the bloc met without Prime Minister Theresa May to endorse the agreement, which sets the stage for Britain exit from the bloc on March 29.
“EU27 has endorsed the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration on the future EU-UK relations,” European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted, as the leaders waited for May to join them.
EU27 has endorsed the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration on the future EU-UK relations.
— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) November 25, 2018
Arriving for a special summit in Brussels, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the bloc’s executive arm, said it was a “sad day”.
“To see a country like Great Britain…leave the EU is not a moment of joy nor of celebration, it’s a sad moment and it’s a tragedy,” he said.
Michel Barnier, the former French foreign minister who negotiated the deal on behalf of the bloc, added: “We will remain allies, partners and friends.”
May, who arrived in Brussels on Saturday evening for final talks with Tusk and Juncker, was due to join the other leaders later in a highly symbolic moment.
Forged during 17 months of tough negotiations, the withdrawal agreement covers financial matters, citizens’ rights, Northern Ireland and arrangements for a 21-month post-Brexit transition phase.
A short political declaration that accompanies the text sets out hopes for future security and trade ties.
But it is not the final stage, as the House of Commons in London must still approve the deal — and many MPs have warned they will not back it.
Until the agreement is approved, all sides are still planning for the potentially disastrous possibility that Britain leaves the EU with no new arrangements in place.
Britain remains deeply divided over the decision, but the prime minister said that finally leaving could be “a moment of renewal and reconciliation”.
“To do that we need to get on with Brexit now by getting behind this deal,” she said.
There are concerns in EU capitals about fishing rights and commercial rules Britain must follow to maintain access to the bloc’s markets.
A diplomatic source said that the minutes of Sunday’s summit meeting of the 27 leaders would record those concerns.