by Lisa Bryant
PARIS – The European Parliament gave the green light for Britain’s departure from the European Union Wednesday evening, hours before Brexit becomes reality. The vote was overwhelming, 621 to 49, but it was an emotional departure.
After being part of some sort of a European union for nearly half a century, it took only a few seconds for Britain to see its departure overwhelmingly approved by the European Parliament.
The next step promises to be difficult, as Britain negotiates its future relationship with the EU, especially on trade matters. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had this message for London:
“It’s very clear the tradeoff is simple: The more united the United Kingdom does commit to uphold our standards for social protection and workers’ rights, our guarantees for the environment and other standards and rules ensuring fair competition, the closer and better the access to the single market,” she said.
But many lawmakers stuck to the emotional part of the split.
“To all of you, I will say that I will miss you,” a French lawmaker said. “The EU will not be the same without you. My deep feeling is there is no good Brexit.”
“If the British people ever decide to come back, our arms will be open,” a Spanish lawmaker said.
Others warned that Britain’s departure should spark soul-searching about what is broken with the EU.
“We European decisionmakers must realize that an increasing number of fellow citizens have turned their backs against the European projects, it’s for a reason,” a Belgian lawmaker said. “It’s because many believe that too often policies adopted at the European level have served the few rather than the many.”
Leave vs Remain
For British Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage and other populist lawmakers, it was a time for victory.
“We love Europe, we just hate the European Union. … I’m hoping this begins the end of this project. It’s a bad project,” he said.
But Britain’s Remain camp at the EU parliament vowed they would be back. Among them, Aileen McLeod, of the pro-independence Scottish National Party.
“Scotland is a European nation,” she said. “And I look forward to an independent Scotland rejoining the EU, and we will, soon…”
Britain’s last day as an EU member is Friday. The British flag will be lowered at EU institutions. But in many ways, the farewell — with EU lawmakers locking arms and singing an old Scottish song — has already happened.