THERESA MAY warned the time for talking is over after Europe’s leaders signed off on the Brexit deal and told Britain to take it or leave it.
The prime minister will tell MPs today they have a ‘duty’ to back the pact, while European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said: ‘This is the only deal possible.’
At least 80 Tories have publicly vowed to vote it down and her allies in Northern Ireland’s DUP have told Mrs May to ‘look for a better deal now’.
But she said she will campaign ‘with all my heart’ for the agreement — thrashed out with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier — before Parliament gives its verdict. ‘On it will depend whether we move forward to a brighter future together or open the door to yet more division and uncertainty,’ she said. ‘If people think there is somehow another negotiation to be done, that is not the case. This is the only deal on the table. This is the best possible deal. It’s the only possible deal.’
The prime minister promised voters the pact ‘delivers for you all’, bringing back control of laws, borders and money. ‘The British people do not want to spend any more time arguing about Brexit,’ she said in a plea to MPs ahead of her Commons appearance today. ‘They want a good deal done that fulfils the vote and allows us to come together again as a country.’
After more than two years of talks, it took the leaders of the other 27 EU nations just 38 minutes to agree to the deal.
They signed off both the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration on Britain’s future relationship with the bloc during a summit in Brussels. Mr Juncker warned British MPs: ‘Those who think they can have a better deal by rejecting the deal will be disappointed in seconds.’
‘One thing is certain, we will remain friends to the end of days and one day longer.’
He also said referendum voters took the ‘wrong decision’ back in 2016, claiming: ‘It’s not a moment of jubilation or celebration, it’s a tragedy. If I was a British citizen I would be deeply sad imagining the life of my grandchildren.’
Mr Juncker added: ‘To see a country like the UK leaving the EU does not give to the rising of champagne glasses. Divorce is a tragic moment.’
But he raised hopes of a beneficial agreement over future trade, saying: ‘I don’t think Britain will be a third country like other third countries. I do think that the British Parliament, because this is a wise parliament, will ratify this deal.’
DUP leader Arlene Foster said there was no way she would back the deal, which could leave Northern Ireland bound by single market rules when the rest of the UK is not.
She said her party — which props up Mrs May’s minority government — could pull the plug on her administration by refusing to back her if a confidence vote is held. ‘I believe we should use the time now to look for a third way, a different way, a better way,’ she told the BBC. ‘There is very much a border down the Irish Sea as a result of this and that’s why we can’t support this deal.’
Despite the warning issued by Mr Juncker against rejecting the deal, Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė admitted the EU realised ‘everything could happen’ when MPs get to vote.
‘This is not a moment of jubilation or celebration, it’s a tragedy — if I was British I’d be deeply sad.’
‘It could be a second vote of the people, it could be new elections, it could be a request for renegotiations,’ she said.
‘But it’s up to the British side to decide what path to choose.’
Echoing Mr Juncker’s regretful tone over the divorce, European Council president Donald Tusk said: ‘One thing is certain, we will remain friends to the end of days and one day longer.’
Mrs May said: ‘I recognise some European leaders are sad at this moment, but also some people back at home in the UK will be sad.’ She said she did not feel sad because she was ‘full of optimism’ about Britain’s future and EU countries would remain our friends and neighbours.
The vote on Theresa May’s EU Withdrawal Agreement is expected between December 10 and 15, although it could be delayed until January if the prime minister looks likely to lose.
If it is approved, Mrs May will have survived her biggest political test and will be on course to deliver Brexit as promised on March 29 next year.
If it is rejected, possibilities include:
■ Mrs May being forced out by her own MPs. A hardline replacement could threaten the EU with a no-deal Brexit, while a Remainer could demand new negotiations with the EU.
■ Labour tabling a vote of no confidence in the government, hoping to force a general election by winning.
■ Mrs May attempting to reopen negotiations with the EU.
■ A stock market crash or collapse in the pound that forces MPs to change their minds, allowing Mrs May to win a second vote.
■ Mrs May calling a general election to win a fresh mandate for her plan. She could also try to force it through on a vote of confidence — threatening MPs with a general election unless they agree to support it.
■ The prime minister calling her MPs’ bluff and allowing the UK to crash out of the EU with no deal.
■ Parliament voting to take control of negotiations and ordering the PM to seek another deal — perhaps a Norway-style soft Brexit. MPs and peers will have powers to intervene if no solution has been agreed by January 21.
■ Mrs May, her successor, or an incoming Labour government could decide to hold a second referendum.