Brexit: Britain marks its final day as an EU member

A trade deal between the European Union and the United Kingdom has become law, after British MPs voted overwhelming in favour of it.

The agreement was rushed through the British parliament, after getting the green light from the EU.

It comes as the transition period – which has kept the UK in EU – ends at 11.00pm Irish time on Thursday night, 11 months after Britain left the bloc.

In a statement after the deal cleared the parliament, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “I want to thank my fellow MPs and peers for passing this historic bill and would like to express my gratitude to all of the staff here in parliament and across government who have made today possible.

“The destiny of this great country now resides firmly in our hands. We take on this duty with a sense of purpose and with the interests of the British public at the heart of everything we do.”

The UK House of Commons backed the agreement by 521 votes to 73 – a majority of 448.

The deal, which stretches to 1,246 pages, had been flown to London in a military plane after being signed by European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels on Wednesday morning.

On this, Ms von der Leyen said: “It has been a long road. It’s time now to put Brexit behind us. Our future is made in Europe.”

Today, @eucopresident and I signed the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

Prime Minister @BorisJohnson will sign it later today in London.

It has been a long road. It’s time now to put Brexit behind us.

Our future is made in Europe. pic.twitter.com/fjybWryJNY

— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) December 30, 2020

While speaking earlier this week, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said he hoped talk about the UK’s departure from the EU ‘will fade away’ – and that Ireland ‘defended itself against the vulnerabilities Brexit forced upon us.’

The trade deal, struck on Christmas Eve, would see no tariffs or quotas on trade.

However the UK will lose access to several aspects of EU membership, including the Erasmus+ programme – which allows students to study in other states.

Mr Coveney has confirmed that Ireland will pay to allow students in Northern Ireland access the programme.

Tweeting on St Stephen’s Day, he said: “We promised we would do this and we will. NI students will have access to Erasmus+ if they want it post Brexit’.

On the deal itself, Mr Coveney said: “The border, the peace process, billions in tariffs and our place in the single market were all threatened by Brexit, these have all now been put to bed.

“When you weigh up the enormous damage of a no deal, I think Ireland has defended itself against the vulnerabilities Brexit forced upon us.

“The protection from the Irish protocol and this deal is beyond what many predicted would be possible.”

He added: “There will still be some changes to the status quo on January 1st because of our nearest neighbour being outside the EU and cabinet will also discuss supports for the most affected sectors.

“This weekend my feeling is one of relief but tinged with regret that the UK is going it alone.

“Ireland is now focused on building a new relationship with the UK outside of the EU.

“Personally I hope talk of ‘Brexit’ will fade away.”

Former British prime minister Theresa May welcomed the agreement, but suggested Brussels would be favoured under the terms of the deal.

“We have a deal in trade that benefits the EU, but not a deal in services that would have benefited the UK,” she said.

The UK Labour Party supported the deal, but all other opposition parties opposed it – including Northern Ireland’s DUP.

Additional reporting: IRN

Main image: File photo taken in October 2019 shows the European Union flag and the Union Jack flag outside the Houses of Parliament in London, UK. Picture by: Han Yan/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images