European Parliament President David Sassoli, center, stands with other British MEP's and members of the political group Socialist and Democrats as they participate in a ceremony prior to the vote on the UK's withdrawal from the EU at the European Parliament in Brussels, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. The U.K. is due to leave the EU on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020, the first nation in the bloc to do so. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

The end is nigh: European Parliament to approve Brexit

January 29, 2020 - 9:11 am

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Parliament on Wednesday is set to overwhelmingly approve the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union — the final major decision in the four-year Brexit saga.

Yet at the same time, EU nations are already preparing for the possibility that talks on a new trade deal with Britain will collapse by the end of the year, and no-deal contingency planning for a chaotic end to the transition period is necessary.

With only two days to spare, the legislators will vote to approve the withdrawal agreement that will end the 47-year membership of Britain. At the same time, the vote will cut the 73 U.K. parliamentarians from the 751-seat legislature where die-hard Brexiteers have been a disruptive force for years while others steadfastly sought to build a more united Europe.

“We’ve achieved our goal," said British member of the European Parliament Nigel Farage who has campaigned for Brexit for two decades, leaving with a smile and a sense of accomplishment. Preliminary votes in committees have already shown that the exit should be approved by a massive margin.

For many though, the first departure of an EU member after the group had grown from an initial six to 28 remains a body blow.

”It’s an incredible sad and painful moment," S&D socialist Tiemo Woelken said. “We’ll wait for your return to our European family."

In a solemn moment, European Parliament President David Sassoli will thank the U.K. members for their cooperation from inside the EU. There still is a final session the British legislators can attend on Thursday, but then they have to vacate their offices.

Now, everything moves to negotiations on how to cooperate in the future. Britain seeks to have a full trade deal within the next 11 months and want a transitional period during which they will still abide by EU rules and regulations to be as short as possible.

The EU has said such a timespan is far too short to have any kind of comprehensive deal and fears remain that a chaotic exit, averted this week, might still happen at the end of the year if the transition ends without any agreement in place.

“The urgency of the 11 months of the calendar should in no way lead us to rush, to accept compromises that would hurt our interests," said France's Europe minister, Amelie de Monchalin. “A trade accord is an agreement that lasts for several decades and we should ensure that we always put fundamental issues of content before calendar issues.”

Even though the European Commission's task force, led by Michel Barnier, is negotiating on the EU's behalf, the impact of major nations like France and Germany on those talks is important.

De Montchalin said that unless Britain asks to extend the transition period before the summer, both sides will be facing a cliff-edge scenario by the end of the year where borders could be closed, tariffs imposed and rules changed overnight, to the detriment of smooth trade.

“That’s why we had long discussions this morning on the need to prepare for such a scenario, through contingency measures that we have to keep active to be ready for all eventual scenarios,” de Montchalin said in Paris.

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