The president of the European Commission has said he would vote in favour of Theresa May’s Brexit deal if he had a vote in the UK parliament.
Jean-Claude Juncker said the agreement was “the best deal possible” and that the EU would not change its “fundamental position”.
It comes as EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier insists he has always “negotiated with the UK, never against” it.
The president’s comments are part of an EU-wide push to convince British MPs that the plan is worth backing. The arithmetic in the House of Commons currently suggests it will be rejected by a wide margin if nothing changes.
Mr Juncker described Britain’s departure as a “tragic moment”.
“I would vote in favour of this deal because this is the best deal possible for Britain,” he told reporters on the doorstep of a Brussels summit to sign off the deal.
“This is the deal. It’s the best deal possible and the EU will not change its fundamental position when it comes to these issues.”
But arriving at the same meeting, French president Emmanuel Macron said: “It’s not a day when we should celebrate, nor a day of mourning. It is the choice of a sovereign people.”
He added that Britain’s departure showed the EU had a “fragile” side and was in need of reform. He also pledged that the deal would protect the access of French fishermen to British waters.
Mr Barnier, who is also attending the meeting, said: “All along this extraordinary negotiation, very difficult we have worked to reach a deal. That means to organise in an orderly fashion the withdrawal decided by the UK.
“We have negotiated with the UK, never against the UK. Now it is time for everybody to take their responsibility, everybody.
“This deal is a necessary step to build trust between the UK and the EU, we need build in the next phase of this unprecedented and ambitious partnership. We will remain allies, partners and friends.”
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said there were “no political winners or victories” in the Brexit process.
He added: ”I don’t expect a no vote. I expect a yes vote and this is the deal on the table. I don’t think there’s anything more.”
Leaders are gathering in Brussels to sign off the deal after a last-minute climbdown by the UK over the issue of Gibraltar. British officials conceded in writing that any future trade deal between the UK and EU would only apply to Gibraltar with the consent of Madrid.
Theresa May had told MPs last week that any deal would have to apply to Gibraltar. Spain has always had a veto of the future trade deal, however, as does every other EU member state.