EU Parliament Seals Brexit with ‘Agony of Parting’, ‘Eternal Love’ for UK
The transition period until the end of 2020 is deemed a very tight deadline for striking an EU – UK free trade agreement.
The European Parliament on Wednesday gave the final approval needed for Brexit, the UK’s departure from the EU, with emotional scenes, declarations of eternal love, and George Eliot quotes.
With 621 votes in favor and 49 votes against, the Members of the European Parliament passed Britain’s withdrawal agreement under which the latter leaves the EU institutions, yet remains under most EU regulations for a transition period by the end of 2020.
Having been an EU member for 47 years, 3.5 of them after the 2016 Brexit referendum, the UK is set to leave the Union at midnight on January 31, 2020, Brussels time.
Before the EP vote, earlier on Wednesday, the UK’s permanent representative to the EU, Tim Barrow, handed back to Brussels the withdrawal agreement signed by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, AFP and France24 reported.
“This step ensures that the UK has fulfilled its legal obligations regarding our exit from the EU,” the British mission said.
As of Saturday, reflecting Brexit, Barrow switches to becoming the UK Ambassador to the EU.
“Only in the agony of parting do we look into the depth of love,” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament during the vote, quoting British author George Eliot.
“We will always love you and we will never be far. Long live Europe,” she stated.
After ratifying the Brexit deal, MEPs burst into a chorus of “Auld Lang Syne”, a traditional Scottish song of farewell.
“If we could stop Brexit by voting ‘no’ today I would be the first to recommend it,” said Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian Prime Minister and chairman of the EP’s Brexit steering group.
“It is indeed a sad issue. We’re sad to see a country leaving that twice liberated us, twice has given its blood to liberate Europe,” he said referring to the two World Wars.
He was the one of many MEPs who made it clear they were voting in favor of ratifying the EU – UK withdrawal agreement not because they supported Brexit but because they wanted to avoid the consequences of a no-deal Brexit.
Wednesday’s vote was the last legislative act of the 73 remaining British MEPs.
In his final speech in the European Parliament, UK Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage proclaimed Brexit to be a victory for populism over globalism, after which his MEPs left while brandishing British flags.
In an earlier news conference, Farage compared Brexit’s significance to that of King Henry VIII’s decision to take Britain out of the Catholic Church in 1534.
“He took us out of the Church of Rome, and we are leaving the Treaty of Rome,” he said, referring to the EU’s 1957 founding document.
Until the end of 2020, the EU and the UK will apply EU rules on trade and free movement of citizens while negotiating a free trade agreement, against the backdrop of widespread skepticism that it might be possible to achieve a comprehensive free trade deal before the end of the transition period.
“We are considering a free trade agreement with zero tariffs and zero quotas. This would be unique. No other free trade agreement offers such access to our single market,” von der Leyen said.
“But the pre-condition is that European and British businesses continue to compete on a level playing field. We will not expose our companies to unfair competition,” she warned, to applause.
(Banner image: European Parliament on Twitter)