Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday hailed “a new chapter” in Britain’s history as he signed its divorce deal with the E.U., clearing another hurdle ahead of the country’s departure from the bloc next Friday.
After more than three years of polarizing controversy and delay, Johnson signed the agreement in Downing Street Friday in front of European and British Foreign Office.
E.U. chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel had put their names to the treaty at a ceremony held behind closed doors in the dead of night.
“The signing of the withdrawal agreement is a fantastic moment, which finally delivers the result of the 2016 referendum and brings to an end far too many years of argument and division,” Johnson said in a statement.
“This signature heralds a new chapter in our nation’s history,” he added on Twitter.
On Wednesday next week, the text will go to the European Parliament for ratification and on Thursday diplomats from the E.U. member states will approve the deal in writing.
Then, on Friday, January 31, Britain spends its last day in the E.U. before leaving the bloc at 2300 GMT as clocks strike midnight in Brussels.
In a tweet, European Council president Michel said: “Things will inevitably change but our friendship will remain. We start a new chapter as partners and allies.”
Boris Johnson has signed the Withdrawal Agreement. Pics just released by Downing Street ???? pic.twitter.com/OgQmSzJH7m
— Nick Eardley (@nickeardleybbc) January 24, 2020
In another move to prepare Brussels for relations with Britain as an outside power, the European Commission named an ambassador – veteran diplomat Joao Vale de Almeida – to London.
Queen Elizabeth II gave her formal assent to the British withdrawal legislation on Thursday and the E.U. is now expected to complete the final formalities in the coming days.
11-Month Transition Period
Britain will leave the institutions of the union, reducing it to 27 member states, but the withdrawal agreement provides for an 11-month transition period until the end of the year.
During this time, Britain and the rest of the bloc will continue to apply the same rules of business to avoid economic disruption while officials try to negotiate a broader trade deal.
Most experts regard the idea that London and Brussels could agree a comprehensive free trade agreement in that time as ambitious.
But officials have expressed cautious optimism that some kind of agreement can be reached.
After the transition, Britain wants the right to set its own rules in areas such as workers’ rights and environmental standards.
But Brussels has warned that the more the U.K. diverges from E.U. standards, the less it will have unfettered access to Europe’s huge single market.
And a comprehensive free trade agreement of the type the E.U. has signed with Canada could take years to negotiate.
Further, the finalization of Brexit could leave the future of Scotland uncertain, with some suggesting the region could secede from the U.K. and rejoin the E.U. as an independent state.
A large majority of Scottish voters rejected Brexit in the 2016 election, and the Scottish Nationalist Party won an impressive 48 seats in the recent December election.
“I have a mandate, a renewed, refreshed, strengthened mandate, to offer people in Scotland the choice of a different future,” SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said following the election.
“I don’t pretend everybody who voted SNP yesterday will necessarily support independence, but there is a clear endorsement Scotland should get to decide our future and not have it decided for us,” she said.
Earlier this week, Sturgeon said she would issue an update on the independence issue in the coming days.