The UK and the European Union finally concluded a trade agreement on Christmas Eve after ten months of intense negotiations, allowing them to ease the economic shock of Brexit.
The United Kingdom will not impose tariffs on cross-channel trade when it leaves the EU single market by New Year’s, despite breaking half a century of close partnerships.
“We have regained control of our laws and our destiny. We have regained control of every shot and title in our regulation in a manner that is complete and unrestricted,” said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, was more measured.
“At the end of a successful negotiation journey, I normally feel joy. But today I feel only silent satisfaction and frankly relief,” she said, quoting the English playwright William Shakespeare: “Farewell is so sweet sorrow.”
She also warned that “the internal market will be fair and remain so, protected by the deal from unfair British competition.”
Von der Leyen called on the 440 million Europeans who remained in the Union of 27 countries to put the drama of the four years since Britain’s Brexit referendum behind them and look to the future.
“I say it’s time to leave Brexit. Our future is made in Europe,” she said.
Britain formally left the EU in January after a divisive referendum in 2016, the first country to split from the political and economic project born as the continent rebuilt in the aftermath of World War II.
But London is still bound by EU rules during a transition period that runs until midnight on December 31, when Britain leaves the bloc’s internal market and customs union.
‘Least bad version of Brexit’
The final 2000-page agreement was held in a last-minute dispute over fishing, as both sides talked about EU fishermen’s access to Britain’s waters after the end of the year.
Von der Leyen said that even if Britain became a “third country”, it would be a reliable partner.
Johnson – who rode to power and promised to “get Brexit ready” – insisted it was a “good deal for the whole of Europe and for our friends and partners as well”.
Leaders around the continent were quick to launch the 11-hour deal that removes the threat of Britain crashing out of the EU after 47 years of divided history without follow-up rules.
Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin – whose EU country would have been hit hard by a no-deal – said the deal was the “least bad version of Brexit possible”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was “confident” that the deal was a “good result” with French President Emmanuel Macron – often portrayed as a bogeyman by British tabloids – and said that “Europe’s unity and firmness paid off”.
Johnson was triumphant on Christmas Eve, calling the deal a “gift” to Britain, but the reaction elsewhere in Britain was more restrained.
“I think it’s taking too long now,” said David Ashby, 62, of Lincolnshire’s Boston, summing up the mood of many.
In London, Shane O’Neill said he was pleased, adding: “It would have been a disaster if there had not been an agreement.”
But Andy Finch, back in Lincolnshire, had been against Brexit from the start.
“I still do not think it is a good idea,” he said. “But that’s where we are. And, we’ll just see.”
EU diplomats receive information on agreements
Following the announcement of the political agreement, the Von der Leyen Commission will send the text to the remaining 27 European Member States.
Their ambassadors will meet on Friday, Christmas Day and are expected to take two or three days to analyze the agreement and decide whether to approve the provisional implementation.
The UK Parliament will also have to suspend the end of the holiday to vote on the deal on December 30, and with the opposition supporting implementation, it should go smoothly.
But with Britain outside the EU’s single market and customs territory, cross-channel traders will still face a battery of new rules and delays with analysts expecting both economies to strike.
Despite this, the threat of returning to tariffs has been removed and relations between the former partners rest on a more secure footing.
It will be seen as a victory by Johnson, as well as a success for Von der Leyen and her chief negotiator Michel Barnier, who led nearly ten months of intense talks with Britain’s David Frost.
Following the shock of the 2016 referendum, European capitals were worried that if such a large rival on their doorstep were to deregulate their industry, their companies would face unfair competition.
Brussels insisted that the only way to keep the Irish-UK border open was to keep Northern Ireland, a British province, within its customs union.
And the members agreed to give up access to Britain’s rich fishing waters, which support fleets in France, Belgium, Denmark, Ireland and the Netherlands.
It was the question of fish that emerged as the last to stumble this week as London pushed to reduce the EU fishing fleet’s share of the estimated annual catch of € 650 million by more than a third, with changes phased out over three years. The EU insisted on 25 percent for at least six years.
In the end, the final agreement was set at the EU figure but reduced the transition period to five and a half years, said an EU official. After this time, access to the UK’s fishing grounds will be negotiated annually.
( Jowharwith AFP)