The UK and the EU’s newly-minted trade pact will shape their relationship for years, if not generations, to come.
European Union governments have approved a trade deal regulating relations between the 27-nation bloc and the UK, paving the way for its provisional application from January 1, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has said.
“I am pleased that all EU 27 have given approval. By joining forces, we have succeeded in preventing a chaotic turn of the year,” Maas, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, posted on Twitter on Tuesday.
The approval – a formality now after a deal between London and the EU last week – was needed for the provisional application of the trade agreement from next year, before it is ratified by the European Parliament by the end of February.
The deal, which preserves Britain’s zero-tariff and zero-quota access to the EU’s single market of 450 million consumers, was reached more than four years after Britons voted by a slim margin in a referendum to leave the bloc.
The provisional trade deal is to be signed by EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the chairman of EU leaders, Charles Michel, on Wednesday morning, according to officials.
After that, the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement is expected to be taken to London, where UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will add his signature.
European Commission spokeswoman Dana Spinant said on Twitter the signature would be an “important moment”.
In a statement, the Commission said the deal would be implemented on only a provisional basis, as there has not been time for the EU parliament to vote on it.
But, with the UK parliament due to ratify the text later on Wednesday, this should be enough to head off the threat of a no-deal divorce on January 1.
In a related development, a group of staunchly pro-Brexit legislators from Johnson’s Conservatives will back his UK-EU trade deal in parliament on Wednesday after they decided the agreement preserved the UK’s sovereignty.
The European Research Group, which sees threats to British sovereignty from close ties to the European Union, said it was satisfied with the deal.
“Our overall conclusion is that the agreement preserves the UK’s sovereignty as a matter of law and fully respects the norms of international sovereign-to-sovereign treaties,” the group’s legal advisory committee said.
“The ‘level playing field’ clauses go further than in comparable trade agreements, but their impact on the practical exercise of sovereignty is likely to be limited if addressed by a robust government.”
It added that the level playing field did not prevent Britain from changing its laws as it saw fit, at a risk of tariff countermeasures. If those were unacceptable the agreement could be terminated with 12 months’ notice.
British MPs will on vote on the deal on Wednesday, less than 48 hours before transition arrangements between Britain and the EU expire.
The opposition Labour Party has said it will back the deal, making it almost certain to pass into law regardless of the support of Conservative legislators from the ERG.
The ERG was long a thorn in the side of Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, and – aided by a Labour Party focused on overturning her minority government – had blocked efforts to preserve closer economic ties with the EU.