The European Parliament signed this Tuesday 29th January 2020 the historic treaty allowing the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union, scheduled for Friday 31st January at 11 pm
The European Parliament made emotional farewells to British MPs on Wednesday 29th January 2020, before the vote to ratify the treaty to withdraw the United Kingdom from the European Union, two days before Brexit.
“We will always love you and we will never be far”, promised European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to British MEPs during a pre-election debate. “We will miss you,” she said.
And to quote the novelist George Eliot: “It is only in the agony of separation that we look into the depths of love”.
The vote, scheduled for around 6.15 p.m., should not surprisingly end with the European Parliament’s approval of the long-term negotiated treaty between London and Brussels, three and a half years after the 2016 referendum.
“To be clear, today’s vote is not for or against Brexit, it is a vote for an orderly Brexit, against a savage Brexit,” said Belgian Guy Verhofstadt, rapporteur for the file.
Séquence émotion au Parlement européen après le vote du texte avalisant le Brexit. Les députés, y compris britanniques, se tiennent la main en entonnant “Auld Lang Syne”, chant traditionnel écossais bien connu des francophones: “Ce n’est qu’un au-revoir…” https://t.co/LYAGH3tLbL
— Philippe Bernard (@canalbernard) January 29, 2020
Brexit is “also a failure of the Union”, he conceded. And to call for a reformed, more efficient Europe, free from the rules of unanimity and exceptional regimes.
“If people are turning away from the European project, it is because they feel that EU policies serve, above all, the interests of a minority at the expense of the majority. Brexit is a lesson for all of us, ”also warned Belgian Greens MP Philippe Lamberts.
The debate was the occasion for a final coup for the leader of the Brexit Party Nigel Farage : a virulent speech, which ended with all the members of the party brandishing, standing, a little Union Jack. This earned them a call to order from the Deputy Speaker.
Earlier, Nigel Farage had given a triumphant press conference in which he compared Brexit to the break-up of Henry VIII with the Pope of Rome in 1534.
Friday will be a special moment for @Nigel_Farage.
He has done an enormous amount for the Eurosceptic movement.
They will miss him dearly in Brussels.
Will be a much duller place without him!
— Rupert Lowe (@RupertLowe10) January 29, 2020
The leader of the Social Democrats (S&D) in the hemicycle, the Spanish Iratxe Garcia, who could not hold back her tears during a departure ceremony for the elected Labor representatives, said she was “devastated” by this departure.
“It is a sad day for our parliament,” regretted David Sassoli, president (Socialists and Democrats group) of the institution. “On a day like this you have to stay even more united,” he said.
Vive émotion dans l’hémicycle au parlement européen au moment où le #Brexit entre effectivement en vigueur… Derrière les leçons à tirer, il y a aussi le ressenti humain face à ce moment historique et le départ de collègues britanniques. pic.twitter.com/WCPtlnsCuY
— Manon Aubry (@ManonAubryFr) January 29, 2020
“It’s an injury to us”
Parliament swarmed all day with the influx of big days. Many media have set up to tell the story live throughout the day.
“It is an injury to us,” said European Parliament President David Sassoli in an interview with CNN on the eve of this special day. “But we have to respect the will of the British citizens.”
On the Parliament Square, a couple of tourists waiting for a journalist to finish speaking before posing for the British flag. “While he’s still there. Because it’s very sad, ”said the husband before taking a contrite look to pose.
Workforce Friday at 11 p.m.
The representative of the United Kingdom to the EU, Tim Barrow, tabled Wednesday morning at the European Council the official document showing that London has fulfilled all its legal obligations to leave the EU.
The very last step will be the adoption by the written procedure of the treaty on Thursday by the Council (the member states). After 47 years of an often difficult relationship, Brexit will be effective Friday at 11 p.m.
A week ago, the parliamentary committee responsible for the matter recommended a vote in favour of the agreement, by a very large majority. Of the 26 members, only three opposed it, British elected representatives from the Labor Party, LibDem and the Scottish National Party (SNP).
On this occasion, Guy Verhofstadt, who chaired the contact group during all negotiations on the treaty, recalled that it was not a question of blocking the divorce. “The choice is between an orderly Brexit and a hard Brexit,” he insisted.
How to say goodbye
Wednesday’s vote seals the departure of British MEPs, without the EU really knowing how to say goodbye.
British pro-Brexits have planned most of their celebrations at home.
The moment is not very glorious for the European bloc: after years of enlargement, this is the first time that a member has left.
The signing of the withdrawal treaty in the middle of the night from Thursday to Friday last week by the presidents of the institutions Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, on the sly, without the media present, surprised.
No formal ceremony either for the withdrawal of British flags.
“It will be done with all the necessary dignity”, promised a spokesperson for the Parliament, specifying that a copy would be kept at the Museum of European History in Brussels.
A short ceremony is planned after the vote.
What future relationship?
On Tuesday, the United Kingdom participated in its last Council of Ministers of the EU, the opportunity for the British representative Christopher Pincher, Minister for Europe and the Americas, to rejoice in “a very different and ‘a very different relationship’ to come.
A chapter closes, but a new and equally difficult period of negotiations opens: during the transition period, during which the United Kingdom will continue to apply Community rules, the EU and London will have to come to an agreement on their future relationship, in particular, a commercial agreement.
— Ina.fr (@Inafr_officiel) January 29, 2020
EU negotiator Michel Barnier again warned on Monday that it was “absolutely clear that there will be negative consequences”.
“Whatever agreement we reach on our future relationship, Brexit will always be an operation to limit the damage,” he said.