Britain's ambassador to the European Union handed documents formalising Brexit to a senior EU official on Wednesday, hours before European lawmakers are due to sign off on a deal that will see Britain finally quit the bloc on Friday.
Three-and-a-half years after Britons voted to leave, a smiling Tim Barrow passed over a dark blue leather file embossed with the emblem of the United Kingdom, against a backdrop of British and EU flags at the bloc's Brussels headquarters.
The European Parliament is due to give its final consent to the EU-UK Brexit deal at 1700 GMT, after which lawmakers will throw an "Au Revoir" party for their 73 departing colleagues.
After protracted and often tortuous divorce talks, the UK will leave the club it joined in 1973 at midnight Brussels time (2300 GMT) on Friday, when British flags will be removed from EU offices and the EU flag lowered on the British premises there.
With a status-quo transition period running only until year-end, fresh talks -- covering everything from trade to security -- will begin soon on a new relationship.
Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier told envoys of the remaining 27 members that a loose association agreement like the EU has with Ukraine should serve as the basis for relations, diplomatic sources briefed on the closed-door meeting said.
He said Brussels would seek to continue applying its state aid rules to Britain to avert the risk of dumping and identified fisheries and trade as areas where consequences could be severe if no deal is clinched.
"We will not give ground on issues that are important to us," Barnier said, according to the sources.
SMILES AND TEARS
On his last working day as a member of the European Parliament, leading Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage told reporters there was "no going back" once the UK leaves.
"The UK didn't fit, we'd be better off out," he said, describing euroscepticism as a settled view in the UK, where the 2016 referendum was won by a narrow 52 to 48 percent margin.
While Farage was beaming, his compatriot Jude Kirton-Darling, a socialist member of the Parliament, held back tears.
"It's probably the saddest day of my life so far. Brexit is something that attacks the very foundation of our identity," said Kirton-Darling, who plans to stay in Brussels with her Belgian husband.Barrow will become Britain's foreign ambassador to the EU and the UK's Permanent Representation, or UKRep, will become a foreign mission -- already dubbed "UKmissEU" by some.