BRUSSELS — Britain's departure from the European Union was set in law Wednesday, amid emotional scenes, as the bloc's parliament voted to ratify the divorce papers.
After half a century of sometimes awkward membership and three years of tense withdrawal talks, the UK will leave the EU at midnight Brussels time (2300 GMT) on Friday.
MEPs voted by 621 votes to 49 to pass the withdrawal agreement, which sees Britain leave the EU institutions but remain under most EU rules during a transition until the end of the year.
Following the vote, MEPs burst into a chorus of "Auld Lang Syne", a traditional Scottish song of farewell.
The transition will see Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government try to negotiate an ambitious free trade agreement with his 27 former partners remaining in the bloc.
"Only in the agony of parting do we look into the depth of love," EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told the chamber, quoting British author George Eliot.
"We will always love you and we will never be far. Long live Europe."
In the Brussels parliament, many MEPs made it clear that they were voting for the withdrawal deal not out of any support for Brexit, but to avoid the disruption of a chaotic no deal divorce.
Some expressed real anguish and regret, and pointed to Britain's role not only in the development of the European unification project but also to its historic battles against tyranny on the continent.
"If we could stop Brexit by voting 'no' today I would be the first to recommend it," former Belgian premier and chairman of the parliament's Brexit steering group Guy Verhofstadt said.
The day began with Britain's permanent representative to the EU Tim Barrow – from Saturday to be its ambassador – handing back the withdrawal agreement signed by Johnson, to be stored in Brussels. — AFP