Queen Elizabeth II gave her formal assent yesterday for Britain to end its decades-long involvement in the European Union and seek a more independent but uncertain future at the end of the month.
With the head of state’s ceremonial approval of the withdrawal legislation, Britain can finally leave its closest neighbours and trading partners after years of bickering and three delays.
Two top EU officials in Brussels are expected to sign the formal separation treaty today and Prime Minister Boris Johnson -- the pro-Brexit figurehead of Britain’s seismic 2016 referendum -- will put his name on it in the coming days.
“At times it felt like we would never cross the Brexit finish line, but we’ve done it,” Johnson said after both houses of the British parliament ratified the withdrawal bill on Wednesday.
“Now we can put the rancour and division of the past three years behind us and focus on delivering a bright, exciting future.”
The January 31 split caps a remarkable political comeback for Johnson at one of the most difficult points in Britain’s post-war history.
He quit former prime minister Theresa May’s government in 2018 in protest at what he viewed as her pro-European separation terms.
Johnson returned as May’s successor in July last year and has since managed to negotiate his own deal with Brussels and regain the government’s control of parliament in a risky early election last month.
The rest was a formality. Lawmakers barely debated the withdrawal agreement before passing it -- even though critics called it worse for Britain than the one reached by May.
The formal talks are not expected to begin until March but the war of words is already intense.
Johnson insists that he will not extend the end-of-year negotiation deadline, while Brussels says a comprehensive deal will take much more time.
The UK government is also demanding the post-Brexit right to set its own rules on politically sensitive issues such as environmental standards and workers’ rights.
EU officials say that could give Britain an unfair advantage and are threatening to retaliate with tariffs and quotas that could do particular damage to the UK auto and pharmaceutical industries.
But some analysts believe this is the price Johnson is prepared to pay for delivering on voters’ wishes to “get Brexit done”.