STRASBOURG, France – The withdrawal deal on Brexit is final and will not be renegotiated but further clarification can be offered to the United Kingdom, the head of the European Commission said on Tuesday ahead of a snap meeting with the British prime minister later in the day.
Jean-Claude Juncker told a European Parliament plenary that the deal struck by Theresa May, a conservative, was the best offer on the table a day after the prime minister decided to postpone a parliamentary vote on the agreement given the likeliness it would have been shot down by lawmakers.
“There is no room whatsoever for renegotiation,” the Luxembourgish politician told the sparsely attended chamber in the French city of Strasbourg to a ripple of applause. “But, of course, there is room enough to give further clarification and further interpretations without opening the withdrawal agreement,” he added.
“Everyone has to know the withdrawal agreement will not be reopened,” he told the European Union’s legislative arm.
Addressing the House of Commons, the lower chamber of UK politics, May on Monday acknowledged her divorce deal would be rejected and therefore deferred the vote scheduled for Dec. 11.
The controversial decision, which saw the Conservative minority government rebuked by Commons speaker, John Bercow, who derided the move as “deeply discourteous,” sent the pound plummeting to a 20-month low against the dollar.
The principal sticking point for Members of Parliament on all sides of the chamber was the Irish backstop.
Requested by the EU, the backstop would ensure that the border between Northern Ireland, a UK territory, and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state, remain seamless even in the event of a no deal Brexit.
But the UK’s apparent inability to unilaterally withdraw from the backstop – should it come into use – and concerns that it could effectively create a customs border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, fueled cross-party opposition to May’s plan.
Juncker acknowledged the division on the measure, but insisted a backstop agreement was fundamental for the Brexit deal.
“Ireland will never be left alone,” he said, to more applause.
May traveled to The Hague on Monday to meet with her Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte in the first stop of a string of emergency meetings with EU leaders.
The PM declined to name a date for the rescheduled meaningful vote in the Commons.
The UK is on track to leave the EU on March 29, 2019, exactly two years after the PM officially notified the European Commission of the country’s intention to leave the bloc by triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.
On Monday, the European Court of Justice ruled the UK could unilaterally retract Article 50, adding impetus to calls for a second Brexit referendum.