European Union (EU) member states gave their final formal go-ahead for Britain’s imminent departure from the bloc on Thursday, a day before Brexit is due to occur.
“The European Union’s remaining 27 countries approved Britain’s withdrawal agreement by written procedure,’’ the European Council announced, paving the way for a member state to leave the bloc for the first time ever.
Britain’s 47 years of EU membership are formally due to cease at midnight on Friday (2300 GMT), three-and-a-half years after Britons voted narrowly in favour of leaving in a 2016 referendum.
“From that time on, the UK will no longer be an EU member state and will be considered as a third country,” the council said in a statement.
Little will change in practice during an 11-month transitional phase, in which the two sides will seek to negotiate a future relationship spanning trade, security, and political cooperation.
Officials in Brussels warned that the timeline is extremely ambitious.
Britain completed its ratification of the withdrawal deal recently when Queen Elizabeth II gave her royal assent after it was passed by the British parliament.
On Wednesday, the European Parliament, in turn, approved the deal.
The withdrawal agreement, a legal document of over 500 pages, ensures a smooth Brexit by initially keeping EU laws in place for Britain and buying time to replace these with new regulations.
It includes key provisions on citizens’ rights, arrangements to maintain peace on the divided island of Ireland and Britain’s remaining financial obligations.