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EU ministers back Brexit deal as May battles own party

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Michel Barnier. Photo: Reuters

Michel Barnier. Photo: Reuters

Theresa May. Photo: Reuters

Theresa May. Photo: Reuters

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Michel Barnier. Photo: Reuters

EU countries are set to unanimously back the Brexit deal regardless of developments in London this week.

All indications from Brussels, where EU foreign ministers met yesterday, are that the EU27 are pleased with the arrangement that provides for a UK-wide customs arrangement.

Irish officials had feared some pushback as they had initially insisted that any spec-ial arrangements could only be applied to Northern Ireland.

However, as British prime minister Theresa May continues to battle with her ministers, the EU appears to be united.

Encouraging

The agreement must also be approved by the European Parliament.

Manfred Weber, who leads the EU legislature's largest group, the centre-right European People's Party, said its initial assessment of the deal is "very encouraging, very positive".

"It must be clear to our British partners that there will be no renegotiation of this text that is now on the table," Mr Weber said in Berlin.

Luxembourg's foreign minister Jean Asselborn said the deal "is the best one possible".

"There is no better one for this crazy Brexit," Mr Asselborn said as EU foreign ministers met before a leaders' summit this Sunday at which the bloc intends to sign off on the deal.

It is understood that Spain is the only country to have expressed reservations, insisting it needs more clarity on how Gibraltar, the British territory at the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula, would be dealt with.

It comes as EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said the EU ministers "have agreed to the principle" of a one-off extension of the post-Brexit transition period if the two sides need more time to finalise a trade deal.

Mrs May told business leaders yesterday that she wants a clean break from the EU before the next general election, which is scheduled for 2022.

She argues that abandoning the plan ahead of Brexit Day on March 29 could lead to the exit being delayed or abandoned, or to a disorderly and economically damaging "no-deal" Brexit.

However, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said his MPs would vote against the current agreement and try to block a "no-deal" exit.

Northern Secretary Karen Bradley has also made clear a no-deal Brexit will inevitably mean customs and regulatory checks on the island of Ireland.

Merits

She was pitching the merits of the draft Brexit deal to business leaders in Belfast yesterday,

She suggested UK and EU commitments outlined in last December's joint report on maintaining the common travel area - an agreement that allows free movement for UK and Irish citizens in Britain and Ireland - would also be thrown into doubt in a no-deal scenario.


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