European Union leaders unanimously approved a tentative Brexit agreement with the United Kingdom on Thursday, laying out “the framework for the future relationship” with Britain if it leaves the 28-nation bloc in November.
The E.U.’s European Council endorsed the political declaration and “invited” the European Parliament and European Commission to “take the necessary steps to ensure” that the agreement enters into force on November 1, according to the council’s two-page meeting summary.
“The European Council restates the [European] Union’s determination to have as close as possible a partnership with the United Kingdom in the future in line with the political declaration,” it said, adding the partnership would be “defined by the overall positions and principles” from previous Council guidelines, statements and declarations.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced the tentative deal on Twitter, but it now falls on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to somehow persuade British Parliament, including Northern Ireland, to go along with it.
The agreement between the British government and 27 other E.U. member nations still requires approval by British lawmakers, who had passed a law requiring Johnson to ask to delay Brexit past the October 31 deadline if a deal with the E.U. was not reached by Saturday.
“Where there is a will, there is a deal — we have one!” Juncker said. “It’s a fair and balanced agreement for the E.U. and the U.K. and it is testament to our commitment to find solutions. I recommend that the European Council endorses this deal.”
Johnson praised the agreement on Twitter, saying it will free up lawmakers to tackle problems with Britain’s National Health Service, or NHS, and other key pocketbook and safety matters.
“We’ve got a great new deal that takes back control — now Parliament should get Brexit done on Saturday so we can move on to other priorities like the cost of living, the NHS, violent crime and our environment,” he said.
The agreement, announced after all-night negotiations, addresses a key obstacle to Brexit, which is how to ensure the free movement of people and goods between Ireland, an E.U. member, and Northern Ireland, which plans to leave the E.U. along with the rest of the U.K. The open border has boosted growth in both territories.
It was reached just hours before the start of the E.U.’s two-day European Summit for heads of state and government in Brussels. The gathering had a host of major issues to address including Brexit, European budget disputes and Turkey’s military offensive in northern Syria.
🇪🇺🤝🇬🇧 Where there is a will, there is a #deal – we have one! It’s a fair and balanced agreement for the EU and the UK and it is testament to our commitment to find solutions. I recommend that #EUCO endorses this deal. pic.twitter.com/7AfKyCZ6k9
— Jean-Claude Juncker (@JunckerEU) October 17, 2019
We’ve got a great new deal that takes back control — now Parliament should get Brexit done on Saturday so we can move on to other priorities like the cost of living, the NHS, violent crime and our environment #GetBrexitDone #TakeBackControl pic.twitter.com/etNQNeIfgw
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) October 17, 2019
— DUP (@duponline) October 17, 2019
Hard sell vs. hard-to-sell
Johnson argued Northern Ireland must leave the E.U.’s customs union, but the new agreement would let Northern Ireland remain inside the E.U.’s single market for goods, meaning no border checks would be required. It also would eliminate Irish border customs checks.
That sets up a customs border in the Irish Sea which has been long opposed by the British government and by Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which supports Johnson’s minority faction of government.
Johnson will need the support of other parties besides his own Conservative Party to overcome the strong opposition in British Parliament to the Brexit deal, which was narrowly approved in a vote of 52 percent to 48 percent among participating voters in a June 2016 referendum. The main reasons voters cited for approving it were concerns over immigration and sovereignty.
The deal disintegrated under former British Prime Minister Theresa May, but even if Johnson succeeds, E.U. leaders must still sign onto Brexit once more. Arlene Foster, leader of the Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, said she could not support the new agreement.
“We have been involved in ongoing discussions with government. As things stand, we could not support what is being suggested on customs and consent issues and there is a lack of clarity on VAT,” Foster said in a statement posted on Twitter, referring to the complicated border and tax issues surrounding the prospect of creating a “hard border” between Ireland and the U.K.
Under the agreement, Britain would leave the E.U. but remain subject to E.U. rules as part of a transition through the end of next year — which could be extended up to two more years — to allow for more time for a potential trade deal and settlement of other outstanding issues.