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Europe Bids Adieu to UK. With Sour Face

The European parliament will approve Britain’s departure from the EU later on Thursday, setting the scene for the U.K. to leave the bloc. British Prime Minister Johnson has hailed the departure, but European officials are much less enthusiastic.
Kenny Fisher

At the stroke of midnight on Friday, the United Kingdom will leave the European Union. The British parliament approved the Brexit Withdrawal Bill last week and the European Parliament will vote on the agreement later on Thursday.  The UK departs the EU after 47 years and is the first member to leave the bloc.

There have been plenty of twists, turns and turmoil since the U.K. voted to leave in a stunning referendum in June 2016. Not surprisingly, the moods over Brexit are polar opposites in London and in Brussels. Boris Johnson called the signing of the Withdrawal Agreement “a fantastic moment, which delivers the result of the 2016 referendum and brings to an end far too many years of argument and division”. Johnson offered an olive branch to the EU, saying he looked forward to a “strong new relationship with the EU as friends and sovereign equals.”

The mood across the Channel, however, is one of regret, dismay and even defiance. European Union members were shocked by the referendum result and have been reluctant to make the departure smooth and pleasant for the U.K., lest other members think of also leaving the bloc. Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Mass, said that the UK could not expect full access to the single market unless it compromised on issues such as consumer rights and environment protection. Michel Barnier, the chief negotiator for the EU, was very blunt in his criticism of the British departure. Barnier warned that “leaving the single market, leaving the customs union will have consequences. And what I saw … in the last year, is that many of these consequences have been underestimated in the UK.”

The bad blood between the UK and the EU over Brexit is expected to continue during the 11-month transition period. Prime Minister Johnson has said the sides will reach a trade deal in that time frame, but EU leaders have argued that this period is much to short to reach a comprehensive agreement, which will need to cover the entire trade relationship between the EU and the UK.

The Brexit negotiations between the EU and the UK were acrimonious, and given the charged rhetoric coming from the Europeans, the upcoming trade talks between the sides could be just as difficult.

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