Britain and the EU have finally signed a post-Brexit trade deal sealing their drawn-out split in the closing hours before the UK definitively ends its half-century European experiment.
Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, the heads of the European Commission and European Council, smiled at a brief televised ceremony to put their names to the 1,246-page Trade and Cooperation Agreement in Brussels.
“It has been a long road. It’s time now to put Brexit behind us. Our future is made in Europe,” von der Leyen said.
The leather-bound document was then flown by the Royal Air Force to London for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to add his signature, as the UK parliament held a rushed debate to ratify the deal in the dwindling time left.
Johnson gave a thumbs up after inking what he described as “the beginning of what will be a wonderful relationship between the UK and our friends and partners in the EU”.
Britain will leave the European single market and customs union at 11:00 pm (2300 GMT) on Thursday, the end of a post-Brexit transition period marked by tortuous trade negotiations which culminated in the Christmas Eve deal.
Introducing an 85-page bill to implement the pact, Johnson told the House of Commons that it heralded a new chapter for Britain and the EU as “sovereign equals, joined by friendship, commerce, history, interests and values”.
The lower house voted overwhelmingly by 521-73 to back the deal, despite serious opposition misgivings, and the bill then passed the House of Lords late Wednesday in an unusually rapid one-day procedure.
London and Brussels would work “hand in glove whenever our values and interests coincide, while fulfilling the sovereign wish of the British people to live under their own sovereign laws made by their own sovereign parliament”, Johnson added.