The European Parliament has voted overwhelmingly in favour of the post-Brexit trade deal between Britain and the European Union, clearing the last hurdle towards full ratification of the accord.
EU lawmakers backed the trade and cooperation agreement by 660 votes to five, with 32 abstentions, the parliament announced on Wednesday. The vote took place on Tuesday, but coronavirus working restrictions meant the result was not immediately known.
Parliament’s consent brings to an end over four years of acrimonious negotiations and debate and lingering mistrust as Britain ended 47 years of EU membership.
The deal, which was finalised on Christmas Eve, had already been ratified by the UK parliament and conditionally came into force pending the European Parliament’s approval, which marks the final legal hurdle.
The UK had joined the bloc in 1973.
“Today the European Parliament voted on the most far reaching agreement the EU has ever reached with a third country,” said the president of the European assembly, David Sassoli.
“This can form the foundation on which we build a new forward-looking EU-UK relationship,” he said, warning that MEPs would monitor the implementation of the deal and “not accept any backsliding from the UK government.”
Sassoli added: “You cannot have the advantages of EU membership while being on the outside. However, this agreement goes a long way to mitigate its worst consequences.”
Agreement has ‘real teeth’
The vote comes amid multiple feuds over the UK’s implementation of Brexit agreements and angry finger-pointing about the supply of the Covid-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca.
It ends five years of a Brexit saga in which Britain and Europe also sealed a divorce deal that bitterly divided the UK and saw the future of peace on the island of Ireland thrust into doubt.
A recent wave of rioting in the British province of Northern Ireland has been blamed on the consequences of Brexit arrangements with talks underway in Brussels and London to find a long-term solutions.
In a final debate in the EU parliament on Tuesday, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen assured MEPs that the agreement had “real teeth” and that any deviation by London from the pact would have consequences.
“And let me be very clear: We do not want to have to use these tools, but we will not hesitate to use them if necessary,” she warned.
Britain also welcomed the vote, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling it “the final step in a long journey”.
Johnson said ratification would provide “stability” in UK-EU relations, while his chief negotiator in the talks, David Frost, said it brought “certainty and allows us to focus on the future”.