Theresa May has urged MPs to embrace a “brighter future” and back her Brexit plan as EU leaders finally signed off on the deal hammered out in Brussels.
On a historic day in Brussels, the Prime Minister insisted the agreement delivered on the promises of the EU referendum as she set the stage for a Commons showdown with her critics.
After the leaders of the remaining 27 member states, meeting in the Belgian capital, took less than 40 minutes to approve the deal, she confirmed she would now put it to a vote of MPs before Christmas.
And as EU leaders lined up to insist that there could be no renegotiation, Mrs May said the public was fed up of wrangling over Brexit and wanted to move on.
“It will be one of the most significant votes that Parliament has held for many years. On it will depend whether we move forward together into a brighter future or open the door to yet more division and uncertainty,” she said.
“The British people don’t want to spend any more time arguing about Brexit. They want a good deal done that fulfils the vote and allows us to come together again as a country.
“I will take this deal back to the House of Commons, confident we have achieved the best deal available and full of optimism about the future of our country.
“In Parliament and beyond it, I will make the case for this deal with all my heart and I look forward to that campaign.”
However, with more than 80 Tory MPs declaring publicly that they intend to vote against the plan, Mrs May faces an uphill battle to make the parliamentary arithmetic add up.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt insisted she could carry on as Prime Minister if she was defeated.
“Absolutely she can,” he told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show.
However pressed on whether the Government could collapse, he acknowledged: “It’s not possible to rule out anything.”
Jeremy Corbyn confirmed that Labour would be voting against the agreement, denouncing it as a “bad deal” for Britain.
“It is the result of a miserable failure of negotiation that leaves us with the worst of all worlds,” he said.
This is a bad deal for the country and Labour will oppose it in Parliament. pic.twitter.com/JXoMp19n2l— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) November 25, 2018
Mrs May refused to be drawn on whether she would stand down if she lost the vote, despite being repeatedly pressed during her end of summit press conference.
“I am focusing on ensuring that I make a case for this deal to MPs,” she said.
Meanwhile, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker led the warnings that there could be no return to the negotiating table if the deal – comprising the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration of future EU-UK relations – was rejected.
“This is the deal. It’s the best deal possible and the EU will not change its fundamental position when it comes to these issues,” he said.
“Those who think by rejecting the deal that they would have a better deal will be disappointed in the first seconds after the rejection of this deal.”
Taoiseach @campaignforleo and European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee speaking on their arrival at the Europa building for the EU Council special #Brexit summit meeting @PA pic.twitter.com/vZeoY7oYiF— Michelle Devane (@michelledevane) November 25, 2018
Irish premier Leo Varadkar said: “There isn’t a plan B. What’s being put in front of EU parliament and House of Commons is a deal. Any other deal really only exists in people’s imagination.”
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte added: “This is the deal on the table. I don’t think there is anything more now.”
French president Emmanuel Macron warned that the EU would use the issue of continued access to UK fisheries to exert pressure on Britain during the next phase of the negotiations on a future free trade agreement.
“It is leverage because it is important as to our future relationship,” he said.
Meanwhile opponents of the deal on the Government benches continued to make clear they were ready to defy the Prime Minister and vote against it when it comes to the “meaningful vote”.
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday; “I campaigned and voted to leave the EU. I don’t believe that, so far, this deal delivers on what the British people really voted for.”
DUP leader Arlene Foster, whose 10 MPs prop up Mrs May’s minority Government in the Commons, said could not support the provisions on the Northern Ireland backstop intended to prevent the return of a hard border with the Republic.
“There is very much a border down the Irish Sea as a result of this and that’s way we can’t support this deal,” she told The Andrew Marr Show.
At number of leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, expressed “sadness” that they were setting the seal on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
Asked whether she shared their sadness, Mrs May said: “No, but I recognise that others do.
“I recognise some European leaders are sad at this moment, but also some people back at home in the UK will be sad at this moment.”