The European Parliament has approved Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal in a historic final vote paving the way for the UK to leave the EU this week. MEPs in Brussels overwhelmingly backed the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, with 621 votes to four, on Wednesday evening.
There were emotional scenes in parliament as the result was announced, with MEPs linking hands in solidarity to sing a final chorus of Auld Lang Syne. Many were seen crying and hugging one another, while others celebrated by clinking glasses of champagne toasting to Britain’s new-found independence.
Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage welcomed the news by waving Union Flags with his allies as he declared Britain is ‘never coming back’. He ended his EU career by being told off and rebuked from the speaker’s chair for the brazen display ahead of the vote, as Brexit Party MEPs gave Mr Farage three cheers.
‘This is it, the final chapter, the end of the road, a 47-year political experiment that the British frankly have never been very happy with,’ he said. British MEPs cleared their desks in Brussels for the last time, before heading off to enjoy a farewell ceremony tonight. But for most MEPs, who have long wanted Britain to stay, it was a moment of deep regret.
Addressing the parliament, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said she was determined the EU and the UK should remain ‘good friends and good partners’. She quoted poet George Eliot, saying: ‘Only in the agony of parting do we look into the depth of love.’ We will always love you and we will never be far, long live Europe,’ she added.
It comes after the Bill finished making its way through British Parliament last week, just days before the UK leaves on Friday at 11pm.
The agreement settles the terms of Britain’s departure, including future citizens’ rights, the arrangements on the Northern Ireland border and the UK’s divorce settlement. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab signed the document ratifying the deal for the UK’s side, which was then hand delivered to Brussels by Britain’s ambassador to the EU, Sir Tim Barrow.
Mr Raab said it was a ‘historic moment’ and ‘the start of a new chapter for an independent, sovereign Britain, looking forward to a decade of renewal and opportunity’. After Friday, the UK will enter an 11-month transition period, during which it will still operate under EU rules until both parties agree on a free trade agreement.
Mr Johnson said he wants a comprehensive deal – covering all aspects of Britain’s future relationship with the EU, including security – by the end of the year. He has been adamant that he will not contemplate any extension of the transition period beyond the end of 2020.
But senior EU figures have repeatedly warned that reaching such a wide-ranging agreement is too ambitious and near impossible within such a tight deadline. They have warned that the UK cannot expect to enjoy the ‘highest quality access’ to European markets if – as Mr Johnson is insisting – it refuses to align with EU rules after Brexit.
Meanwhile, in the latest sign that Mr Johnson is using social media to directly talk to voters, he posted a video answering some frequently-asked Brexit questions. One of the questions asked was ‘Will Brexit affect my holiday?’, to which the Prime Minister replied: ‘No, not at all, you’ll have a fantastic holiday’. While the terms of the Brexit deal mean that there will be few changes on February 1, anyone planning a holiday in 2021 still faces major uncertainty.
Concerns over driving permits, insurance and health cover for British tourists will need to be resolved in the coming talks. Ahead of his final speech in Brussels, Mr Farage also said he would miss being the European Parliament’s ‘pantomime villain’.
He said Brexit was a ‘victory for grassroots campaigning’ in the face of opposition from the ‘entire UK establishment’. ‘I’m going to be celebrating the fact that democracy and the will of the people has triumphed at 11 o’clock this Friday,’ he said.