After months of negotiations, UK, EU secure Brexit trade deal

Announcement marks the end of a key chapter in the Brexit saga, and comes just one week before the UK exits the EU’s single market.

The deal comes more than four years after a slim majority of Britons voted to quit the EU in a June 2016 referendum [Paul Grover/Pool via Reuters]

The United Kingdom and the European Union have agreed on a post-Brexit trade deal after months of torturous negotiations, averting the prospect of a chaotic and acrimonious divorce at the end of this year.

The deal, announced on Thursday, came just one week before the UK is due to exit the EU’s single market and customs union on December 31.

“The deal is done,” UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted, as he posted a photo of himself with both thumbs raised in celebration.

Delivering a televised address, Johnson hailed striking what he called “the biggest trade deal yet”, adding that the UK had taken back control of its laws, borders, and fishing waters.

“We have completed the biggest trade deal yet, worth 660 billion pounds a year, a comprehensive Canada-style free trade deal between the UK and the EU,” he said.

Johnson urged Britons to make the most of what he called the country’s soon-to-be status of a “newly and truly independent nation”.

Addressing the EU, he added: “We will be your friend, your ally, your supporter and indeed, never let it be forgotten, your number one market.”

The deal will ensure the UK and the 27-nation bloc can continue to trade in goods without tariffs or quotas, smoothing trade worth hundreds of billions of pounds – and euros – a year between the pair.

Still, there will be some major changes come January 1, when more rules and increased bureaucracy will come into effect. How Britons and Europeans travel, live and work between the country and continent will also change.

EU and British negotiators were up all night working on the agreement, reportedly fuelled by takeaway pizzas, as they hashed out final details at the Berlaymont in Brussels, the headquarters of the European Commission.

Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, meanwhile, spoke several times by phone.

“Parting is such sweet sorrow,” von der Leyen said in Brussels shortly after the deal was announced. “It is time to leave Brexit behind. Our future is made in Europe.

“We have finally found an agreement. It was a long and winding road but we have got a good deal to show for it.

“It is fair, it is a balanced deal and it is the right and responsible thing to do for both sides.”

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, speaking alongside von der Leyen, said: “Today is a day of relief, but tinged by some sadness as we compare what came before with what lies ahead.

“The clock is no longer ticking, after four years of collective effort and EU unity to preserve peace and stability on the island of Ireland, to protect the citizens and the single market, and to build a new partnership with the UK.”

The deal comes more than four years after a slim majority of Britons voted to quit the EU in a June 2016 referendum on membership of the bloc.

The agreement document is said to be about 1,500 pages long. In essence, it is a narrow free trade pact surrounded with other agreements on a range of issues including energy, transport and police and security cooperation.

The pact will not cover services, which make up 80 percent of the UK economy, including a banking industry that positions London as the only financial capital to rival New York.

Access to the EU market for UK-based banks, insurers and asset managers will become patchy at best.

What next?

Both sides must now move quickly to ratify the pact.

The UK Parliament, in which Johnson’s governing Conservative Party has a strong majority, is expected to sign off on the deal before December 31, when the Brexit transition period ends.

Johnson said he hopes the agreement will be put to members of Parliament for a vote next week, on December 30.

But things are more complicated on the EU side, with the leaders of its 27 member states required to approve of any agreement before it can then be sent to the European Parliament for its consent – a challenge made more difficult by the Christmas holiday period and amid a worsening coronavirus crisis.

EU law does, however, include a mechanism for agreements to be provisionally approved by its 27 member states, without its parliament’s consent.

European Parliament President David Sassoli on Thursday confirmed the institution will analyse the deal “in detail” before deciding whether to give its consent in the new year.

“We will act responsibly in order to minimise disruption to citizens and prevent the chaos of a no-deal scenario,” Sassoli said on Twitter.

EU ambassadors will meet at 10:30am CET (09:30 GMT) on Friday, Christmas Day, to begin reviewing the post-Brexit trade deal clinched on Thursday.

“The German EU Council Presidency has just convened a COREPER meeting for tomorrow 10.30am. EU Ambassadors will start reviewing the EU-UK agreement,” an EU spokesman for Germany, which holds the bloc’s rotating presidency, said on Twitter. COREPER is the name given to meetings of EU envoys.

The EU’s Barnier will provide a briefing on the EU-UK negotiations, the spokesman said.

News of a deal has meanwhile brought a sense of relief for many in the UK and across Europe.

Had the UK and the EU failed to compromise, a no-deal Brexit scenario would have forced them to default to trading under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules from January 1.

WTO rules would have brought financial tariffs, quotas and other regulatory barriers to trade into play.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies