U.K. PM sees Brexit deal soon as EU agrees to text on future ties

British Prime Minister Theresa May said Thursday that a good Brexit deal is within reach, after the European Union and her government agreed on a draft declaration outlining their future relations.

The 26-page text was agreed upon at a technical level by negotiators and endorsed Thursday by the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, which is overseeing Brexit negotiations.

It paves the way for a weekend EU summit to rubber-stamp the deal.

"This is the right deal for the U.K.," May said outside her 10 Downing Street offices. "It delivers on the vote of the referendum. It brings back control of our borders, our money and our laws, and it does so while protecting jobs, protecting our security and protecting the integrity of the United Kingdom."

She said that British citizens "want a good deal that sets us on course for a brighter future. That deal is within our grasp and I am determined to deliver it."

European Council President Donald Tusk, who chairs meetings of EU leaders, said he has sent the draft political declaration to Britain's European partners.


Tusk said the draft declaration still requires "the endorsement of the leaders." EU heads of state and government are due to meet in Brussels on Sunday to approve the declaration and a separate divorce deal. 

May is set to return to Brussels on Saturday for more talks on the eve of the summit, including with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

May faces widespread opposition in the British Parliament over the divorce agreement, which was agreed last week. That 585-page legal treaty deals with the terms of Britain's departure, including how much money it owes the EU.

Ticking clock

Britain officially leaves the EU — the first country ever to do so — at midnight on March 29, but a Brexit deal must be agreed on in coming weeks to leave enough time for the European Parliament and the U.K. Parliament to endorse it.

As opposed to the withdrawal agreement, the draft declaration on future ties is a political, not a legal, text.

"This declaration establishes the parameters of an ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership across trade and economic co-operation, law enforcement and criminal justice, foreign policy, security and defence and wider areas of co-operation," according to the document.

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday called the declaration 'the right deal for the U.K.' (Matt Dunham/Associated Press)

It also talks about close economic ties and integrated supply chains that have developed and been cemented since Britain first joined the European Economic Community — a precursor to today's 28-member EU — in 1963.

The document notes that the "parties envisage having a trading relationship on goods that is as close as possible, with a view to facilitating the ease of legitimate trade."

The actual legal text will have to be negotiated after Brexit on March 29, and that could well be even more complicated than what has come so far.

In a speech in Berlin before Tusk's announcement, German Chancellor Angela Merkel underlined that "Britain should remain a partner, remain a friend."

Though Britain "should have very close economic relations with us," Merkel did underscore the difficulties that may arise in any attempt to keep services seamless.

"We have to say honestly that in the services sector we don't have a great deal of experience with international free trade agreements," she said. "But we want to see that as a future relationship."

Gibraltar sticking point

The European Commission, which has supervised Brexit negotiations, refused to comment directly on the declaration.

But spokesperson Margaritis Schinas did confirm that "work is continuing" to resolve differences between London and Madrid over Gibraltar, the tiny territory at the tip of the Iberian Peninsula that was ceded to Britain in 1713 but is still claimed by Spain.

Last year's EU guidelines on the Brexit negotiations effectively gave Spain veto power over future relations between the bloc and the British overseas territory, and the Spanish government says it will vote against the Brexit deal if Gibraltar's future isn't considered a bilateral issue between Madrid and London.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Tuesday that his government "cannot accept" Gibraltar's future being determined by negotiations at the EU level.

But May said Thursday that she had spoken with Sanchez the night before and that she was "confident that on Sunday we'll be able to agree a deal that delivers for the whole U.K. family, including Gibraltar."

May was due to address lawmakers Thursday and also held talks with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency until the end of the year.

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