EU and Britain seal post-Brexit trade deal

Dave Clark - Agence France-Presse
EU and Britain seal post-Brexit trade deal
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he holds a remote press conference to update the nation on the post-Brexit trade agreement, inside 10 Downing Street in central London on December 24, 2020. Britain said on Thursday, December 24, 2020 an agreement had been secured on the country's future relationship with the European Union, after last-gasp talks just days before a cliff-edge deadline.
AFP / Paul Grover, Pool

BRUSSELS, Belgium — Britain and the European Union struck a trade deal Thursday after 10 months of intense negotiation allowed them to soften the economic shock of Brexit.

When the UK leaves the EU single market at the New Year it will not now face tariffs on cross-Channel commerce, despite breaking off half a century of close partnership.

"We've taken back control of our laws and our destiny. We've taken back control of every jot and tittle of our regulation in a way that is complete, and unfettered," British Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared.

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen was more measured.

"At the end of a successful negotiations journey I normally feel joy. But today, I only feel quiet satisfaction and, frankly speaking, relief," she said, citing English playwright William Shakespeare: "Parting is such sweet sorrow."

She also warned that, protected by the deal from unfair British competition, "The single market will be fair and remain so."

And she urged the 440 million Europeans remaining in the 27-nation union to put the drama of the four years since Britain's Brexit referendum behind them and to look to the future.

"I say it is time to leave Brexit behind. 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 that was born as the continent rebuilt in the aftermath of World War II.

But London remains tied to the EU's rules during a transition period that runs until midnight on December 31, when the UK will leave the bloc's single market and customs union.

'Solid foundations'

The final 2,000-page agreement was held up by a last-minute dispute over fishing as both sides haggled over the access EU fishermen will get to Britain's waters after the end of the year.

Von der Leyen said that although the UK would become a "third country" it would be a trusted partner.

Johnson — who rode to power pledging to "get Brexit done" — 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 herald the 11th-hour accord that heads off the threat of Britain crashing out of the EU after 47 years of shared history with no follow-on rules.

Irish premier Micheal Martin — whose EU member state would have been hard hit by a no-deal — said the accord was the "least bad version of Brexit possible". 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was "confident" that the deal was a "good outcome" with French President Emmanuel Macron — often portrayed as a bogeyman by the British tabloids — saying that "Europe's unity and firmness paid off".

Christmas present?

Johnson was triumphant on Christmas Eve, calling the deal a "present" for Britain, but reaction elsewhere in the UK was more restrained. 

"I think it's dragged on for too long now," David Ashby, 62, said in Lincolnshire's Boston, summing up the mood of many.

In London, Shane O'Neill said he was pleased, adding: "It would've been a disaster if there would've been no deal."

But Andy Finch, back in Lincolnshire, had been against Brexit from the beginning. 

"I still don't think it's a good idea," he said. "But that's where we are. And, well, we'll just have to see."

EU states to ratify

Following the announcement of the political accord, von der Leyen's 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 analyse the agreement and decide whether to approve its provisional implementation.

The UK parliament will also have to interrupt its end of year holidays to vote on the deal on December 30, and with the opposition backing its implementation, it should pass easily.

But with Britain outside the EU single market and customs area, cross-Channel traders will still face a battery of new regulations and delays with analysts expecting both economies to take a hit.

Despite this, the threat of a return to tariffs will have been removed, and relations between the former partners will rest on a surer footing.

It will be seen as win by Johnson, as well as a success for von der Leyen and her chief negotiator Michel Barnier, who led almost 10 months of intense talks with Britain's David Frost.

After the shock 2016 referendum, European capitals were concerned that if such a large rival on their doorstep were to deregulate its industry their firms would face unfair competition.

Brussels insisted the only way to keep the land border between Ireland and the UK open was to keep Northern Ireland, a British province, within its customs union.

And members balked at giving 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 stumbling block this week when London pushed to reduce EU fishing fleets' share of the estimated 650-million-euro annual haul by more than a third, with changes phased in over three years. The EU was insisting on 25 percent over at least six years.

In the end, the final agreement settled on the EU's figure but cut the length of the transition period to five-and-a-half years, an EU official said. After this time access to Britain's fishing grounds will be negotiated on an annual basis.

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As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: April 3, 2023 - 8:07am

British Prime Minister Theresa May hailed "progress" in talks with the EU on Wednesday aimed at solving the Brexit deadlock.

May said her meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had been "constructive" with the two sides agreeing to work on assurances over the thorny "Irish backstop" issue. — AFP

April 3, 2023 - 8:07am

The long queue of traffic waiting to board ferries to France at the English port of Dover began easing on Sunday evening, after a hugely disrupted weekend left some travellers waiting up to 16 hours.

Channel ferry operators made extra sailings to France to help clear the backlog.

But UK interior minister Suella Braverman on Sunday rejected claims that the delays at the start of the Easter getaway were "an adverse effect of Brexit", which ended free movement from Britain to European Union member states.

The Port of Dover said in a tweet that "all this weekend's coach traffic is now contained in the port ready for processing through immigration controls".

The popular port for cross-Channel ferry travel "continues to work with the ferry operators and border agencies to get the remaining coach passengers on their way as quickly as possible," the statement said. — AFP

March 1, 2023 - 12:40pm

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak urges pro-UK politicians in Northern Ireland to grab the economic "prize" on offer after he secured a breakthrough reform deal with the European Union.

On a visit to the tense province, Sunak says he was "over the moon" at clinching the pact with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

Following their meeting in the royal town of Windsor, near London, both leaders proclaim a "new chapter" in relations after years of Brexit tensions.

The deal follows more than a year of talks over the "Northern Ireland Protocol", which has unsettled the province 25 years on from a historic peace agreement that ended three decades of armed conflict.

Agreed in 2020 as part of Britain's EU divorce, the protocol kept Northern Ireland in the European single market for physical goods and subject to different customs rules than the rest of the United Kingdom, angering pro-UK unionists there and eurosceptics in London.  AFP

December 23, 2022 - 2:54pm

Two years after Britain's departure from the European Union, bosses of UK businesses are reeling from the cost of Brexit, including some who voted to cut ties with Brussels.

"It's cost, cost, cost with no benefit," noted Adrian Hanrahan, chief executive of a small chemicals company, Robinson Brothers, based in central England and for which the EU remains a key market.

The problem is not the customs duties, largely eliminated by the post-Brexit free trade agreement between London and Brussels, but rather a mountain of new regulatory paperwork.

"We've added probably 25 percent extra now on our administration costs just to cope with the changing paperwork... of getting stuff in from the EU and out of the EU," Hanrahan told AFP. — AFP

November 25, 2022 - 10:00am

French President Emmanuel Macron and Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin believe there is "a crucial window of opportunity to resolve" post-Brexit trade disputes with London over Northern Ireland, according to an Irish statement issued after the pair met in Paris.

The British region of Northern Ireland is locked in a political stalemate following disagreements over the Northern Ireland Protocol negotiated when the United Kingdom left the European Union.

The protocol keeps Northern Ireland within the European single market but creates a de facto customs border with the island of Great Britain, which is unacceptable to Northern Ireland's unionists, who want to keep the province within the United Kingdom.

Northern Ireland has the UK's only land border with the EU, but it must remain open under the 1998 peace agreement that ended three decades of violence.

Martin "expressed his thanks to the President for France’s unswerving solidarity with Ireland throughout Brexit," according to the statement, released after a lunch meeting at the Elysee Palace.

"Both leaders agreed on the importance of a new and vital partnership with the UK and believe that there is now a critical window of opportunity to resolve issues relating to the Protocol," it added. — AFP

August 17, 2022 - 3:55pm

Britain has launched dispute procedures with the European Union over its exclusion from the bloc's scientific research programs, using a mechanism set out in a post-Brexit deal.

This is the first such dispute launched by the UK against the EU since Brexit.

The British government said in a statement late Tuesday that it has launched action "set out in the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) to resolve disputes between the UK and EU". 

The action was taken over "persistent delays" to its access to EU science programs, it said. 

It added that the UK had negotiated access to these programmes in 2020 but the EU "has still refused to finalize" its inclusion in academic programs. -- AFP 

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