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Britain's EU divorce bill becomes law

Next stop, Brexit

Britain’s delayed and disputed Brexit bill became law on Thursday, removing the last U.K. obstacle to the country leaving the European Union in just over a week.

The U.K. is finally leaving the 28-nation bloc more than 3 1/2 years after voters narrowly opted to do so in a June 2016 referendum — and after interminable rounds of political wrangling.

Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans announced Thursday in the House of Commons that the Withdrawal Agreement Act had received royal assent from Queen Elizabeth II, the final formality in its legislative journey. An identical announcement was made by the speaker of Parliament's upper House of Lords.

Evans' brief announcement, which drew cheers of “Hear! Hear!” from some Conservative lawmakers in the Commons, came hours after the bill completed its passage through Parliament late Wednesday by getting approval from the House of Lords.

"At times, it felt like we would never cross the Brexit finish line, but we've done it," Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

The EU Parliament also must ratify the Brexit divorce deal before Jan. 31, Britain's scheduled departure date. The EU Parliament’s constitutional affairs committee voted by a large margin Thursday to approve the Brexit withdrawal deal, preparing the way for a vote of all European lawmakers in Brussels next Wednesday.

“It's a historical moment, albeit a sombre moment, for us. We deeply regret this outcome,” committee chair Antonio Tajani said after the 23-3 vote.

After years of divorce negotiations between the British government and the EU, U.K. lawmakers repeatedly defeated attempts by both Johnson and his predecessor Theresa May to finalize Britain's departure terms with the other 27 nations of the bloc.

That changed when Johnson’s Conservatives won Britain's Dec. 12 election, giving his government the ability to override the objections of opposition parties. Opposition members of the House of Lords battled to amend the withdrawal bill but were overruled by Johnson's 80-strong majority in the Commons.

But deep divisions over Brexit remain.

After the royal assent was announced, Scottish National Party lawmaker Ian Blackford said the U.K. was in a “constitutional crisis” because the legislatures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland did not back the Brexit bill.

“Boris Johnson has trampled over the democratic votes in Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff," Blackford said.

The Scottish National Party says Scotland should hold a referendum on independence from the U.K., which Johnson refuses to allow.

Despite Johnson’s repeated promise to “get Brexit done” on Jan. 31, the day of departure only marks the start of the country's EU exit.

In February, Britain and the EU will begin negotiations on their future ties, racing to strike new relationships for trade, security and a host of other areas by the end of 2020.



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