(Bloomberg) -- Squeezed between an argument over what to call its transport strategy and a debate on the coronavirus, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of Britain’s orderly departure from the European Union.
It was an anti-climactic way to issue the U.K.’s last rites. But Britain’s goodbye has been gradual since voters chose that path in June 2016, and inevitable since December’s general election returned Prime Minister Boris Johnson with a large majority. The parliament in Brussels always had a veto over the Brexit deal, but it was never seriously going to block it.
Instead, a two-hour debate provided the stage for the last meaningful contribution for the British in Brussels since they joined the club in 1973. Some of the U.K.’s representatives, directly elected by voters who increasingly fell out of love with Europe, hailed their moment of freedom, waved the Union Flag and cheered “hip, hip, hooray.” For others it was a time of deep regret. Their voices cracked as they described Britain’s departure as betrayal and tragedy.
“The British are too big to bully,” bellowed Nigel Farage, one of the most prominent Brexit campaigners and the EU parliament’s most unruly member since 1999. But his final flourish after more than 20 years was cut off for breaking the parliament’s rules on flag-waving.
But this was about the EU, too. For decades it thought membership was irreversible. Now it’s losing one of its biggest countries. To jeers from Farage’s party, Germans, Poles, Spaniards and others decried the decision and said they still dreamed that one day the Brits would be back. Several called for the EU to learn lessons as well. “It’s also our failure -- we have to recognize that,” said former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhoftstadt.
As the parliament displayed the result of the vote, read out by interpreters in 24 languages, many politicians linked arms and broke into “Auld Lang Syne,” the traditional Scottish folk song.
“Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?” they sang. And then, with, according to some, indecent haste, moved onto other matters.
Did we really have to end “at 6 p.m. sharp?” asked Belgian politician Philippe Lamberts. “It’s not every day a country leaves the European Union.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Ian Wishart in Brussels at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ben Sills at email@example.com, Richard Bravo, Robert Jameson
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