29 Dec 2020

Brexit: EU ambassadors approve EU-UK trade deal

7:14 am on 29 December 2020

Ambassadors from the 27 EU member states have unanimously approved the EU-UK post-Brexit trade deal, paving the way for it to take effect.

The Dover Traffic Access Protocol (TAP) scheme on the A20 is seen in action as freight lorries queue on the main route into the port of Dover on the south coast of England on December 17, 2020.

Photo: AFP / Ben Stansall

The deal is likely to become law on 1 January, as the UK Parliament is expected to approve it on Wednesday.

Under EU rules it can take effect provisionally, though the European Parliament will vote on it in January.

The deal sets the framework for trade once the UK leaves the EU single market and customs union in four days' time.

The deal, which ended nine months of negotiations, will be approved by all 27 EU governments in writing at 15:00 (14:00 GMT) on Tuesday, the German EU presidency said.

They have had three days to analyse the details of the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement, since its publication. But most of the 1246-page document had already been seen by member states in previous weeks.

The deal ends nearly 50 years of UK membership of the bloc, covering a vast array of policies besides those governing common trade rules.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted that he had spoken to European Council President Charles Michel about the deal and its forthcoming ratification by EU governments.

"I welcomed the importance of the UK/EU Agreement as a new starting point for our relationship, between sovereign equals," he said.

"We looked forward to the formal ratification of the agreement and to working together on shared priorities, such as tackling climate change."

There was much relief that the tortuous negotiations - including last-minute haggling over fish quotas - finally ended on Christmas Eve.

The no-deal scenario would have meant reverting to World Trade Organization (WTO) rules on 1 January, notably the immediate imposition of tariffs - import taxes - and quotas on a huge range of goods. The tariffs on some food items would have been 50 percent or higher.

The new trade deal:

  • enables the UK to continue selling goods to the EU market - the UK's biggest trade partner - without tariffs or quotas
  • includes binding enforcement and dispute settlement mechanisms to address any unfair competition - what the EU calls "level playing field" rules
  • ensures continued smooth transport links between the UK and EU, including safeguards on passenger rights
  • means new paperwork and other barriers for UK businesses in Europe, including financial services, which employs more than a million people in the UK
  • does little to address the needs of the UK service sector, accounting for about 80 percent of the UK economy
  • transfers 25 percent of EU boats' fishing rights in British waters to the UK fleet, over a five-and-a-half year transition period
  • reduces UK access to EU programmes in various fields, including policing and education.

The basics

A Brexit deal has been agreed, days before a deadline. It means that the UK and the EU can continue to trade without extra taxes being put on goods.

What took so long? The UK voted to leave the EU in 2016 and actually left on 31 January 2020, but leaders had until the end of 2020 to work out a trade deal.

There are big changes ahead. Although it's a trade deal that has been agreed, there will also be changes to how people travel between the EU and UK, and to the way they live and work.


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