Members of the European Parliament on Wednesday approved a withdrawal agreement that will see the United Kingdom formally leaving the EU by the end of the week.
Denise Grech witnessed this historical moment for CorporateDispatch.
The vote took place after an emotional debate in Brussels. Many MEPs could be seen holding back tears as the historic vote took place. The vote comes after the completion of the ratification process in the UK and the positive recommendation adopted by the Constitutional Affairs Committee last week.
The emotional debate started off with rapporteur Guy Verhofstadt saying he wished he could end Brexit by voting no. It was sad to see a nation that gave so much, economically and politically, go.
This was a country that gave its blood to liberate Europe twice, he added. He also tried to dissuade fears that the EU was losing its sovereignty, saying that, following transnational powers like China: “the cruel reality is that European countries have lost their sovereignty a long time ago, and the EU is the way to regain that sovereignty”.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the withdrawal agreement was the first step in leading to negotiations which will see the UK and the EU remain friends and allies. To jeers from some MEPs in the chamber, von der Leyen insisted the EU and the UK would compete on an equal playing field – where the UK would understand the EU’s position on trade and the single market.
Chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said the EU would continue to regret the vote, but would still respect it. The current agreement would see the withdrawal of the UK in an orderly fashion. However, he warned, there remained innumerable consequences to the UK leaving the EU. Further negotiations would see that citizens’ rights would remain a top priority and that any insecurity caused by Brexit would be diminished, he said.
Many MEPs insisted this was not a goodbye (adieu), but a see you later (au revoir). Many British MEPs insisted that Brexit was a ‘reckless vanity project’ and that it was harmful for those living in the UK.
British MEP Luisa Poritt joined others in expressing hopes that future generations will try to rejoin the Union as full, dedicated members.
Brexit Party leader and MEP Nigel Farage, however, insisted that previous UK generations had signed up to a common single market, not ‘flags, presidents or institutions’.
I’m not particularly happy with the agreement, but Johnson has promised us there will be no level playing field, and on that I wish him luck, he said.
“We love Europe, we just hate the European Union,” he said. “I hope this begins the end of this project,” he told the chamber.
What happens next?
On Thursday, the European Council will adopt the withdrawal agreement that would see the UK leaving the bloc. On Friday, a negotiated transition period kicks off in order to allow time for businesses and people to prepare for the changes arising from Brexit. The transition period will also allow the UK and the EU to iron out any further disagreements on their relationship.
During the transition period, which formally ends 31 December 2020, the UK will be treated as if it had remained as a member state in the EU, participating in the single market and the customs union. The transition period kicks off Friday at 11 pm, when the UK would formally leave the European Union.