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Final Countdown

Pro-remain MEPs sing Auld Lang Syne after EU Parliament backs Brexit deal

A vote by MEPs in Brussels paves the way for Britain to leave the EU on Friday with an agreement in place.

LAST UPDATE | 29 Jan 2020 / YouTube

THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT has sealed Britain’s departure from the EU, voting overwhelmingly to back Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal.

MEPs, sitting in Brussels, voted by 621 to 49 in favour of the Withdrawal Agreement, paving the way for Britain to leave on Friday with a deal in place.

There were emotional scenes in the parliament as the result was announced with MEPs linking hands to sing a final chorus of Auld Lang Syne.

In contrast, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage was greeted by cheers and the waving of Union Flags by his party’s MEPs as he declared Britain was “never coming back”.

It follows the completion last week of the passage of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill through the British Parliament at Westminster.

It was formally signed by the presidents of the European Council, Charles Michel, and the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in Brussels and Johnson in Downing Street.

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.

It also allows for an 11-month transition period, during which the UK will continue to follow EU rules while talks take place on a free trade agreement.

Johnson has 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.

However, senior EU figures have repeatedly warned that reaching such a wide-ranging agreement will not be possible within such a tight timetable.

They have cautioned that the UK cannot expect to enjoy the “highest quality access” to European markets if – as Johnson is insisting – it refuses to align with EU rules after Brexit.

belgium-britain-brexit British MEP's assistant cries during a ceremony ahead of today's vote. Francisco Seco Francisco Seco

belgium-britain-brexit AP / PA Images AP / PA Images / PA Images

Speaking in Dublin, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the UK is very unlikely to seek an extension of the transition period by mid-summer which is when they would have to do it.

“Because of that timeline, the UK effectively decided to put themselves in a straitjacket in terms of time.

“The approach to the negotiations from the European Union will be tailored to that time and that will force choices, but it will also force a very intense negotiation very quickly.
“The second point is that we are now moving very quickly in terms of the next stage of Brexit and we have been preparing for that for quite some time.”

Coveney went on to say that after the UK leaves the EU, discussions around the future will begin straight away.

He added: “On Monday, the Commission will publish their draft negotiating mandate, that will need to be approved by the EU leaders on 25 February, and that mandate will be wide ranging.

 I think what will become very clear is that we will have to make some very difficult choices before the summer and what I mean by that is, the European Union has already indicated that there is no way that a full future relationship agreement that involves free trade agreements can be completed by the end of the year, there was no chance.

Following today’s vote in the European Parliament, there will be a farewell ceremony for the British MEPs leaving for the last time.

Irish MEP Frances Fitzgerald said today’s vote represents “a distinct sadness for the European Union, a sadness shared by many UK citizens and Irish citizens”. 

“Through today’s vote in the European Parliament, the UK’s membership of the EU will be brought to an end after 47 years. That is 47 years of cooperation and partnership, 47 years of breaking down borders and barriers, 47 years of working together for better social cohesion.

With reporting from Adam Daly, Christina Finn.

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