EU diplomats rush to review Brexit trade deal on Christmas Day

EU ambassadors give up festivities to inspect details of historic agreement secured between bloc and UK a day earlier.

Legislators in the UK and EU must now sign off on the trade deal [Olivier Hoslet/Pool via Reuters]

European Union ambassadors have started to assess the post-Brexit trade deal clinched on Thursday between the bloc and the United Kingdom, as both sides move quickly to ratify the pact.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, is updating diplomats from the bloc’s 27 member states on Friday – Christmas Day – as they begin the review process of the deal document.

It is yet to be published, but thought to be about 1,500 pages long.

Friday’s meeting in Brussels, which the group is attending in person, comes less than a day after the Brexit deal was finally sealed, following months of fractious negotiations defined by divisions over fishing rights, competition rules and governance issues.

Talks were down to the wire, with the UK due to exit the EU’s single market and customs union next week, on December 31.

The deal averts the prospect of a chaotic and acrimonious divorce at the end of this year and ensures the UK and EU 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.

Legislators in the UK and EU are now required to sign off on the deal.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday said he hoped the agreement would be put to the UK Parliament for a vote next week, on December 30, just one day before the Brexit transition period expires.

MPs are expected to sign off on the deal.

Johnson’s governing Conservative Party has a strong majority in the legislative chamber and the main opposition Labour Party on Thursday confirmed it would back the agreement, saying it was the only alternative to a chaotic no-deal Brexit scenario.

On the EU side, the agreement needs the approval of all of the bloc’s member states and the European Parliament, which has ruled out rushing through ratification of the deal before the end of this year.

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

The European Parliament said on Thursday it would analyse the deal in detail before deciding whether to approve the agreement in the new year.

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

In essence, the deal 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, and there will still 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 from the beginning of next year.

Analysts said the deal looked “pretty skinny” for the UK, but could help pave the way for future agreements on other key issues such as data sharing.

“On the one hand, it is a relatively slim deal – it focuses on goods and largely excludes services,” Maddy Thimont Jack, a specialist Brexit researcher at the UK’s Institute for Government, told Al Jazeera.

“But on the other, it does go further than other EU trade agreements – including issues like security and energy. It is also the only zero-tariff zero-quota agreement the EU has signed,” she said.

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.

Although a disruptive divorce of that nature has been avoided, the UK is still headed for a major break away from the bloc, Anand Menon, director of the UK in a Changing Europe think tank, told Al Jazeera.

“If you think about where we have come from, this is very much towards the hard end [of the Brexit spectrum],” he said. “This is a hard Brexit.”

Source: Al Jazeera