EU ministers approve draft Brexit deal

Ministers responsible for European Affairs of the 27 European Union (EU) countries on Monday approved a draft deal on the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU (Brexit) worked out last week by negotiators representing the two sides.

“The first difficult step is done; the negotiations between the European Union and British Prime Minister Theresa May have led to a deal,” Austrian Minister Gernot Blümel said at a press briefing after Monday’s European Council meeting. “The question now is whether there is an approval of this deal in the UK and European parliaments.”

EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier welcomed the ministers’ support for the document negotiated by his team. “We are, in fact, at a decisive moment in this process,” he said. “No one should lose sight of the progress that has been achieved in Brussels and in London.”

While the ministers gave the green light to the draft withdrawal plan, there has been no decision thus far on the possibility of extending the post-Brexit transition period that would enable the U.K. to remain within the EU but without a vote. The transition is due to end at the end of 2020, but there has been talk of a possible two-year extension.

Barnier said all governments seemed to have agreed on the principle of a possible extension of the transition period.

Monday’s green light from the ministers paves the way for the text to be approved on Sunday at an extraordinary summit of EU heads of State and Government. The heads are also scheduled to rule on a “political declaration” outlining future ties between London and the 27, which is still being negotiated.

The EU still needs to know whether the United Kingdom is ready to accept what is on the table, Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders warned at the end of the Council meeting, even as the week in Europe seems increasingly to depend on the vagaries of British politics.

In London, Prime Minister Theresa May still faces a no-confidence motion and is under threat from Brexit hardliners demanding the renegotiation of a deal they see as unacceptable.

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