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EU officials sign withdrawal deal, appoint ambassador as Brexit looms

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel signed the divorce deal for Britain to leave the European Union (EU) on Friday.

This is one of the final steps required before Brexit in a week’s time.

“Charles Michel and I have just signed the Agreement on the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU, opening the way for its ratification by the European Parliament,” von der Leyen wrote on Twitter.

The parliament is due to cast its final vote on the withdrawal agreement next Wednesday and is expected to pass the deal.

As a final step, it then requires the formal adoption of the remaining 27 EU member states.

Under the deal, Britain will leave the EU at midnight (2300 GMT) on Jan. 31.

A transition period then kicks in, until at least Dec. 31, 2020, giving the two sides time to negotiate their future relationship.

The EU’s diplomatic corps also appointed its future ambassador to Britain on Friday, choosing Portugal’s Joao Vale de Almeida, who until recently served as the bloc’s emissary to the UN.

Michel Barnier is to remain Brussels’ main messenger on all things Brexit, however, staying put in his role as chief negotiator.

He is set to receive his mandate for negotiations on the future relationship in the coming weeks.

The two sides have a small window to thrash out a trade agreement, but also new arrangements covering fisheries, financial services access and the sharing of data important for security, among other issues, by the end of the year.

“Things will inevitably change but our friendship will remain. We start a new chapter as partners and allies,” Michel tweeted on Friday.

The British parliament has already ratified the Brexit withdrawal deal, and Queen Elizabeth II has also given royal assent.

The legal text runs to more than 500 pages and specifies the details of Britain’s departure.

This including key provisions on citizens’ rights, arrangements to maintain the peace along Ireland’s land border with the UK and Britain’s remaining financial obligations.

Edited By: Fatima Sule/Emmanuel Yashim

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