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'Sad moment' as leaders endorse UK withdrawal agreement

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'Sad moment' as leaders endorse UK withdrawal agreement

May - Juncker - Photo EC

(BRUSSELS) - EU leaders endorsed the Brexit withdrawal agreement Sunday as presented by the negotiators of the EU and the UK, declaring this a "sad moment" but saying that the deal was "the only deal possible".

At their special Brexit summit in Brussels, the EU confirmed that following ironing out of last-minute objections from Spain over Gilbraltar, the European Council was now in a position to ask the EU institutions - Commission, European Parliament and the Council - to take the necessary steps to ensure the agreement can enter into force on 30 March 2019, so as to provide for an orderly withdrawal.

The leaders also approved the Political Declaration which sets out the framework for a future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom.

They restated the Union's determination to have "as close as possible a partnership with the United Kingdom in the future in line with the Political Declaration".

There would be no filling of champagne glasses, however. "It's a very sad day to see a country like the UK leaving the EU," said Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker after the summit.

And Council president Donald Tusk added that "regardless of how it will all end, one thing is certain. We will remain friends until the end of days. And one day longer."

Mr Tusk warned of yet more tough times ahead, with the "difficult process of ratification as well as further negotiations".

Mr Juncker praised the EU's negotiating team, especially for helping maintain EU unity through the talks "despite pressure which came quite often from the UK".

The EU said that its negotiators had reached objectives set at the beginning of talks. These included minimising uncertainty and disruption caused by Brexit for European citizens and businesses; settling the status of EU citizens who live, work and study in the UK; avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland; and preventing a legal vacuum for our companies.

With an eye on the upcoming ratification vote in the British House of Commons, expected in December, EU leaders were keen to stress that the deal was "the best deal possible, for the UK and for Europe" ... "the only deal possible", according to Mr Juncker.

With many predicting rejection by British parliamentarians of a deal which satisfies neither hard-line anti-Europeans nor those in favour of remaining in the Customs Union and Single Market, nor just of staying in the EU, and a second referendum, the EU was careful not to express an opinion as to what would happen if the deal was rejected.

However, Mr Juncker did say to "those who think that by rejecting the deal that they would have a better deal" that they would "be disappointed in the first seconds after the rejection of this deal."

Mr Juncker did promise that no British civil servants working for the European Commission would lose their job, and that he "admired the professionalism, the loyalty, the commitment of those coming from Britain to work for the Commission.

European Council (Art. 50) conclusions, 25 November 2018

Draft agreement on the withdrawal of the UK from the EU as agreed at negotiators' level on 14 November 2018, including text of Article 132. This text is subject to final legal revision in the coming days.

Political declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the EU and the UK

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