Brexit deal clears final hurdle as MEPs approve Withdrawal Agreement in historic vote
Britain's departure from the EU has cleared its final hurdle after MEPs backed the Brexit deal struck between Boris Johnson and Brussels.
In a landmark session, MEPs voted 621 to 49 to rubber stamp the Withdrawal Agreement, paving the way for the UK's exit from the bloc at 11pm on 31 January.
Most of them then linked arms and sang a rendition of 'Auld Lang's Syne' after the result was announced.
It comes after the House of Commons overwhelmingly backed the Prime Minister's Withdrawal Agreement Bill last week.
The symbolic vote was marked with speeches from senior EU figures and British MEPs, including the European Parliament's Brexit co-ordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, who paid tribute to the "wit and charm" of the British group.
"Today's vote is not a vote in favour or against Brexit," he said. "It is a vote for an orderly Brexit against... a hard Brexit. Let me be honest, if we could stop Brexit today by voting against I would be the first to recommend it. But that is not on our plate today."
But Mr Verhofstadt, who has been an outspoken critic of Brexit, also took a swipe at the UK government, saying Britain's sovereignty was more at risk from their plans to allow Huawei help build its 5G network, than from their membership of the EU's single market.
And in a message to pro-EU citizens in the UK, he said the bloc had "a responsbility that the union to which they will return will be another union, effective and more democratic."
But his speech was met with anger from Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, who said the 31 January exit date marked the "point of no return" for the UK's membership of the bloc.
He said: "Once we have left we are never coming back, and the rest, frankly, is detail. We are going, we will be gone."
"The British are too big to bully. I want Brexit to start a debate across the rest of Europe. If we want trade, friendship, cooperation, reciprocity, we don't need a European Commission, we don't need a European Court, we don't need these institutions and all of this power.
"I can promise you, both in Ukip and the Brexit Party, we love Europe but we just hate the European Union. I'm hoping this begins the end of this project. It's a bad project."
Earlier on Wednesday, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab signed the official papers ratifying the deal from the UK side as he outlined the government's vision for a "truly global Britain".
"Signing the instrument of ratification of the withdrawal agreement is an historic moment that will legally bring an end to our membership of the European Union, and delivers on the promise we made to the British people," he tweeted.
"It is the start of a new chapter for an independent, sovereign Britain, looking forward to a decade of renewal and opportunity. Whether we are reducing trade barriers between nations, tackling climate change, or improving lives around the world, our vision of a truly global Britain will be a force for good."
The UK's relationship with the bloc is set to remain unchanged during an 11 month transition period in which negotiators will thrash out details on the future relationship, including new agreements on security, trade and free movement.
But Mr Johnson has already rejected suggestions the transition period could be extended, despite concerns from European leaders that the tight schedule will not provide enough time to agree the new provisions.
Speaking during the debate, EU Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen, said she wanted to form a "close partnership" with the UK after Brexit, adding: "When it comes to trade, we are considering a free trade agreement with zero tarriffs and zero quotas. This would be unique.
"No other free trade agreement offers such access to our SM. But the preconfition is that EU and British business continue to compete on a level playing field. We will certainly not expose our companies to unfair competition."
She added it was "very clear" that "the more the United Kingdom does to uphold our standards for social protection and workers rights, our guarantees for the environment and other standards and rules ensuring fair competition, the closer and better the access to the single market."