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EU leaders sign Brexit agreement, what's next?

January 24, 2020

The heads of the EU Commission, the EU Council, and the UK government have signed off on the Brexit deal negotiated with the UK. Here's what else needs to happen before Britain leaves the bloc at the end of the month.

Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel
Image: Getty Images/AFP/F. Florin

Top officials from the European Commission and European Council signed off on the UK Brexit Agreement on Friday, paving the way for Britain's departure from the European Union at midnight on January 31.

Commission head Ursula von der Leyen and Council leader Charles Michel attended Friday's official signing ceremony at the Council's headquarters in Brussels, alongside chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

Their signatures act as a formal endorsement and the treaty can now head to the European Parliament on January 29 for a final vote on ratification. The plenary is expected to pass the deal.

"Charles Michel and I have just signed the Agreement on the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU, opening the way for its ratification by the European Parliament," Commission chief von der Leyen tweeted.

Diplomats from the EU member states must approve the deal in writing next Thursday.

"Things will inevitably change but our friendship will remain. We start a new chapter as partners and allies," Michel tweeted. "I'm keen to write this new page together." 

Queen Elizabeth II approved Britain's ratification bill on the Brexit Agreement on Thursday.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed the deal later on Friday, saying it was to honor "the democratic mandate of the British people."

"This signature heralds a new chapter in our nation's history," he wrote on Twitter.

Read more: Opinion: UK on course for a hard Brexit

Transition period

Assuming the European Parliament also gives the green light, the UK will formally leave the EU on January 31 with a withdrawal deal.

Following its departure, Britain will enter a transition period until December 31, 2020. During this time, the UK and the EU need to agree on their future relationship including on matters such as security, law enforcement and data sharing.

During the one-year transition period, the EU and UK must also agree on a trade deal that will then determine the conditions of their future economic relationship.

If a trade deal is not ready in time, the UK can expect checks and tariffs on UK products going to the EU.

Read more: Opinion: Brexit show extended for another season 

No more delays

Johnson, who has faced a number of backlogs, has repeatedly said he would not accept any form of extension to the transition period.

After replacing Teresa May in July 2019, the Conservative party leader was required to request a third extension after British members of Parliament (MPs) failed to pass a revised Brexit agreement into law.

The latest deadline set for January 31 takes place three and a half years after the Brexit referendum was held.

dj,mvb/ng (AFP, dpa)

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