The European Parliament on Wednesday backed the Brexit deal agreed with the U.K. government, one of the last formal steps required to take Britain out of the European Union on January 31.
A total of 621 MEPs voted in favor of and 49 against (with 13 abstentions) a document which called on the Parliament to “give its consent to the conclusion of the draft Withdrawal Agreement.”
Straight after the vote, MEPs stood up and sang “Auld Lang Syne.”
The EU and the U.K. struck a deal at a European Council in November. Last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel officially signed the agreement, days after MEPs gave their preliminary consent to the text during a vote in the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee.
Now that the U.K. and European parliaments have ratified the deal, it is up to the Council of the European Union, which represents 27 EU countries, to sign off on the agreement by qualified majority. Countries have until 1 p.m. on Thursday to submit their approval in writing, a Council official said.
Prior to the vote, MEPs held a debate with von der Leyen and Michel Barnier, the EU’s Brexit chief.
“We will always love you and we will never be far,” von der Leyen said, turning to look at some of the British MEPs who attended the plenary. “Long live Europe,” she added. But she also insisted that “no new partnership” between the EU and the U.K. “will bring back the benefits of being part of the EU.”
“We will certainly not expose our companies to unfair competition,” she added.
Manfred Weber, head of the European People’s Party MEPs, made similar remarks during the debate, saying there would be “no cherry picking, no European Singapore next to our markets,” after Brexit.
“We only will grant them [Brits] access to our market if they respect the European rules,” Weber said.
But he struck a more emotional tone when addressing his British colleagues. “To the colleagues who will leave us, I tell you I hope our work in the next years will make Europe so strong, so attractive that your children and grand-children will want to be part of the European Union once again.”
There was predictable commotion when Nigel Farage addressed the plenary and told MEPs that “populism was becoming popular.” His fellow Brexit Party MEPs then stood up and pulled out union flags.
When Mairead McGuinness, the Irish MEP who chaired the session, asked Farage and his colleagues to “remove the flags,” Farage answered: “That’s it, it’s all over, finished. We’re gone.”