BRUSSELS: On Thursday, only a week before the deadline, Britain and the European Union signed a free-trade pact that could avert economic uncertainty on New Year’s Day and, after years of Brexit instability, offer a degree of stability for firms.
The deal, if signed by both parties, would guarantee that the United Kingdom and the 27-nation bloc will continue to trade in commodities without tariffs or restrictions until the United Kingdom breaks entirely out of the EU on January 1.
Relief was tangible all around that a satisfactory outcome was eventually created by nine months of tense and sometimes testing negotiations.
In the middle of a coronavirus pandemic that left some 70,000 people dead in Britain, the Christmas Eve breakthrough was doubly welcomed and prompted the country’s neighbours to close their doors to the United Kingdom through a new and apparently more infectious version of the virus circulating in England.
“We have taken control back of our laws and our destiny,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced, sharing a thumbs-up photo of himself on social media.
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said that it was a long and winding path, but “we have a good deal to show for it.”
She added: “It’s fair, it’s a balanced deal, and for both parties, it’s the right and responsible thing to do.”
The deal now has to be voted on by the 27 EU countries and the British and European parliaments, but resolution by the European body does not take place until after the break-up of Jan 1st. The UK parliament is due to vote on Dec 30.
The extraordinary steadfastness of the 27 nations of greatly differing priorities was a victory in itself, France, long seen as Britain’s biggest hurdle to a deal, said.
European unity and firmness have paid off,’ said French President Emmanuel Macron in a tweet.
And German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that cooperation is now likely to contribute to the backing of the agreement from all EU nations: “I am very optimistic that we can produce a good result here.”
It has been over four years since the British voted 52% to 48% to leave the EU and, in the terms of the slogan of the Brexiteers movement, take back control of the boundaries and rules of the UK.
It took more than three years of struggle to exit the institutional systems of the blocs in Britain last January. It took months longer to disentangle the two-sided markets and balance Britain’s need for democracy with the goal of the EU to maintain its stability.
Devil in the detail
The devil will be in the detail of the 2,000-page agreement, but both sides claimed the deal protects their cherished goals. Britain says it brings the U.K. Oversight of its money, boundaries, laws and fishing waters means that the nation is no longer in the EU’s lunar pull.
It defends the EU Single Market and contains provisions to ensure that Britain does not unfairly undercut the requirements of the blocs, Von der Leyen said.
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If Britain were to leave the EU with no trading deal, tariffs on each other’s exports would be reinstated by both sides.
Johnson’s government recognised that, as the British call it, a disorderly no-deal departure or a crash-out will undoubtedly bring gridlock at the ports of the world, temporary shortages of some products and price spikes for staple foods. It could cost hundreds of thousands of jobs because of the chaos.