European Parliament: MEPs set to approve Brexit deal in historic vote

UK
The chamber of the European Parliament during a rehearsal for Wednesday's vote Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The 750 or so MEPs in the European Parliament will vote electronically on the agreement

The European Parliament is set to approve the terms of the UK’s departure from the European Union in an historic vote on Wednesday.

The 751 representatives will debate the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement in Brussels before, it is widely expected, giving their backing to the UK-EU treaty.

The landmark session is set to feature valedictory speeches and even music.

It will mark the final stage of the ratification process, ahead of the UK’s exit at 23:00 GMT on 31 January.

The UK participated in its last meeting as an EU member on Tuesday when Foreign Office minister Chris Pincher attended the General Affairs Council.

The European Parliament’s approval is the final hurdle to be cleared for Brexit to go ahead.

However, Wednesday’s session will be largely symbolic. The outcome of the vote is not in any doubt after the Withdrawal Agreement was signed off by key parliamentary committees last week.

The proceedings will be an opportunity for those on either side of the Brexit battles of recent years, including the UK’s 73 MEPs, to celebrate or lament the end of the UK’s membership of the EU after 47 years.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage will make his final contribution in the European Parliament

The debate on October’s agreement, which includes among other things guarantees over the rights of EU nationals living in the UK and British expats on the continent, will be opened by the Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt.

Mr Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister, has been one of Brexit’s strongest critics but last week he paid tribute to the UK’s MEPs, saying their “knowledge, energy and wit” would be missed.

Other prominent figures expected to speak include the UK’s Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, who has been campaigning for the UK’s exit ever since he was first elected in 1999.

After the vote, scheduled to to take place at about 1700 GMT, the UK MEPs leaving their jobs are expected to be serenaded by their colleagues in a special ceremony.

The EU’s negotiators have kept the European Parliament on board throughout the Brexit process.

Its main committees have given their approval. So it’s inevitable that the deal will be endorsed. Instead of a moment of jeopardy, this is likely to be the highest profile event in the EU’s distinctly low-key goodbye to the UK.

Expect speeches that praise EU unity and describe the UK’s departure as a regrettable mistake. A German MEP is planning a sing-a-long to Auld Lang Syne. The SNP group have arranged for a piper to play them out of the building.

In the meantime, the 73 British members are packing their belongings into their regulation-issue 15 cardboard boxes.

The main send-off will happen on Friday, when the president of the European Parliament will deliver a joint statement alongside the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission.

The British flag that flutters outside the parliamentary premises will be lowered in the early hours of Saturday morning, before it’s displayed in a museum.

After the UK leaves, there will be an 11-month transition period in which the two sides hope to negotiate their future economic relationship.

Trade talks are expected to begin in earnest in early March. The UK has insisted they cannot be extended beyond 31 December 2020 when the interim arrangement – which will see the UK follow EU rules – comes to an end.

The president of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, told CNN on Tuesday that the timetable for a deal was tight.

He said the UK’s exit would be “painful” for the bloc but building a new partnership based upon friendly co-operation and mutual interests was now essential.