European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier speaks to reporters Thursday in Brussels, Belgium, at the start of a negotiation summit. Photo by Olivier Hoslet/EPA-EFE
Oct. 17 (UPI) -- On the day European Union and British negotiators were set to begin a Brexit summit in Belgium, the two sides said Thursday they have reached a long-awaited agreement.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the EU announced a new withdrawal agreement, which still requires legislative approval on both sides.
The agreement precedes Thursday's summit and a Saturday deadline that forces Johnson to request a withdrawal extension. Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on Oct. 31.
"Where there is a will, there is a deal - we have one," European Union President Jean-Claude Juncker tweeted. "It's a fair and balanced agreement for the EU and [Britain] and it is a testament to our commitment to find solutions. I recommend that [the European Commission] endorses this deal."
The EU Summit Thursday could lend approval to the deal and mark a breakthrough for the referendum that was passed by British voters in 2016.
Johnson called on British lawmakers to approve the deal.
"We've got a great new deal that takes back control -- now Parliament should get Brexit done on Saturday so we can move on to other priorities," Johnson said.
Both sides said the new deal dismisses the Irish "backstop," a measure to maintain a "soft" trade border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. In recent weeks, Johnson had proposed instead customs checkpoints on both sides of the border.
The prospects of getting the proposed agreement approved, however, are uncertain. The Democratic Unionist Party said immediately Thursday it won't support the proposal in Parliament. Many Conservative Party members have previously indicated they won't support a deal without the DUP.
Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn blasted the proposed agreement and called for a second public referendum.
"From what we know, it seems the prime minister has negotiated an even worse deal than [former Prime Minister] Theresa May's, which was overwhelmingly rejected," he said. "These proposals risk triggering a race to the bottom on rights and protections: Putting food safety at risk, cutting environmental standards and workers' rights, and opening up our [health system] to a takeover by U.S. private corporations."