January 30, 2020 / 2:25 PM / 17 days ago

EU27 give quiet, final nod to Brexit agreement

A British Union Jack flag flutters outside the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium January 30, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Brexit cleared its final formal hurdle on Thursday as the 27 European Union member states that Britain will leave behind approved the withdrawal agreement reached last October after more than three years of tortuous negotiations.

The European Council, which brings together the EU’s heads of state or government and sets the bloc’s policy agenda, said in a statement that the decision was adopted by written procedure, shorthand for an email from each member state.

The deal was approved with much more drama in the European Parliament at the end of an emotional debate on Wednesday.

British Brexit Party lawmakers cheered and waved mini Union Jack flags, while others lamented Britain’s divorce from the EU on Jan. 31 after nearly half a century of membership, many struggling to hold back tears.

The withdrawal agreement will come into force at midnight Brussels time on Friday (2300 GMT), after which Britain will no longer be an EU member state and will be considered a third country.

However, it will enter a transition period until Dec. 31, 2020, designed to provide more time for citizens and businesses to adapt. During the transition, Britain will continue to apply EU law but will no longer be represented in EU institutions.

... by John Chalmers

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