The presidents of European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, and the European Council Charles Michel, have signed the Brexit deal agreed in October and approved this week by the British parliament.
It paves the way for ratification by the European Parliament next week to ensure a smooth UK departure from the EU under the terms of the withdrawal agreement.
The UK is set to leave the EU next Friday, January 31, bringing to an end 47 years as a member of the pan-European partnership.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier was also present at the ceremony, held at the Commission’s Brussels headquarters.
The accord was due to be sent to London to be signed by Boris Johnson. In the UK the EU Withdrawal Bill became law on Thursday when it received royal assent. The same evening, the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs committee recommended approving the deal, by a 23-3 majority.
MEPs are due to debate and vote on the agreement next Wednesday, January 29. The following day diplomats from EU member states are due to give their written accord, before the UK’s official departure on Friday – at midnight CET, 11 p.m. UK time.
A transition phase will then come into effect, lasting until the end of the year, under which arrangements between the UK and the EU will remain largely as they are now.
During this time the two sides will set about negotiating their future relationship, on trade and a host of other matters including security and data sharing. The UK has ruled out extending the transition period, causing many observers to cast doubt on whether a comprehensive deal can be struck in such a limited time.