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E.U. Leaders Formally Back Britain's Brexit Plan


British Prime Minister Theresa May now has formal backing from the European Union leaders on a Brexit deal. She's still got to sell it to her own country, though. Here she is speaking at a news conference in Brussels after a summit to iron out the agreement.


PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: In any negotiation, you do not get everything you want. I think the British people understand that. When they look at this deal, they will see it as a good one for our country and that it is in the national interest for everyone to get behind it.

MARTIN: With me now from Brussels, NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, who's been covering this. Hey, Soraya.


MARTIN: This has just been such a long, hard slog for Theresa May.

NELSON: No kidding.

MARTIN: She's still going to get this thing through Parliament. What are the odds that she gets the green light from her own government?

NELSON: Well, at the moment, it's not looking really good. I mean, she doesn't have the simple majority of votes - or, at least, it doesn't appear she does - among the 650 MPs that she needs. Or not that she needs. That exist, or that are in the Parliament. That includes the former - I'm sorry - the Northern Irish MPs with the Democratic Unionist Party. And that's a small party whose votes May's government counts on in Parliament. And they already said that they're - or they're indicating they're going to vote no on the deal.

Of course, opposition lawmakers, most of them are against the deal, as well. And at this point, she's being challenged to a debate by Scotland's first minister, as well as the Labor Party leader, to talk about Brexit before they take this vote.

MARTIN: So you mentioned Northern Ireland. I mean, this has been a huge sticking point, right? Because Northern Ireland is part of the U.K., wants to stay part of the U.K. Ireland is part of the EU and wants to remain part of the EU. So how does the Theresa May Brexit plan manage that?

NELSON: Well, it's like a temporary open border. Or let's put it this way. They want to keep the border open, no matter what. I mean, even down the road. And so at the moment, there's sort of a temporary arrangement where there will be no customs and no passport control, just like there aren't now. And the idea is that they would work out a new long-term trade deal, the EU and the U.K., and then that would be - they would figure out how to do the border after that.

And if that fails by the end of 2020, there's still a two-year transition period if both sides agree to it. And then after that, there will be a so-called backstop, and that's where the problem arises, where basically Northern Ireland would end up in a closer customs relationship with the EU than the rest of the U.K. And that's not something that Brexit supporters want. And they also don't like the fact that the backstop would continue until the EU agrees to stop it.

MARTIN: So what happens if Theresa May can't push this particular deal through?

NELSON: Well, she was asked a lot about that yesterday at the summit, and she refused to answer, saying that she's focusing on getting the British people on board. And she's going to be going around the country for the next two weeks trying to push for that. But certainly, if she fails to get the treaty accepted by the Parliament, she could be facing pressure to resign. Her government could face a no confidence vote. Or she ends up going back to Brussels, which of course, is what her critics want, to renegotiate the terms of the deal.

MARTIN: But is that even possible? I mean, the EU signed off on this deal. Is there any indication that they would budge for more favorable terms for the U.K.?

NELSON: Well, certainly not according to the head of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. 'Cause after the summit he said this is the best deal and the only deal and that anyone in the House of Commons who thinks otherwise is mistaken. But the reality, of course, is that nobody wants a no-deal Brexit, which would cost hundreds of billions of dollars and paralyze trade and travel. So it's pretty clear that there probably would be discussions if it got down to the wire.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson for us in Brussels this morning - thanks so much, Soraya. We appreciate it.

NELSON: You're welcome, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.