Britain’s House of Commons voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to approve a trade deal with the European Union, the last major step in London’s yearslong split from the continent’s 27-member governing body.
With a day to spare, lawmakers voted 521-73 in favor of the Brexit deal that Britain reached with the EU last week. It will become British law after passing through the unelected House of Lords and gets a formal royal assent from Queen Elizabeth.
Britain left the EU almost a year ago, but its economic split will be finalized Thursday at midnight in Brussels.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel signed the agreement in Brussels early Wednesday. The documents were then flown by a Royal Air Force plane to London for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to add his signature.
"The agreement that we signed today is the result of months of intense negotiations in which the European Union has displayed an unprecedented level of unity," Michel said. "It is a fair and balanced agreement that fully protects the fundamental interests of the European Union and creates stability and predictability for citizens and companies."
Johnson heralded the pact as "a new relationship between Britain and the EU as sovereign equals."
It has been 4 1/2 years since Britain voted 52% to 48% to leave the bloc it joined in 1973.
Starting Friday on New Year’s Day, the trade deal ensures that Britain and the EU can continue to trade goods without tariffs or quotas. That should help protect the $894 billion in annual British-EU trade, and the hundreds of thousands of jobs that rely on it.
But Brexit will also bring inconvenience, such as the need for tourists to have insurance when traveling between the EU and Britain and for companies to fill out millions of new customs declarations.
But Johnson said Brexit would turn Britain from "a half-hearted, sometimes obstructive member of the EU" into "a friendly neighbor — the best friend and ally the EU could have."
He said Britain would now "trade and cooperate with our European neighbors on the closest terms of friendship and goodwill, whilst retaining sovereign control of our laws and our national destiny."