UK, EU clinch post-Brexit free trade agreement, hail biggest bilateral deal

Aditi Khanna
·4-min read

London, Dec 24 (PTI) The deal is done, Downing Street in London and European Union (EU) officials in Brussels confirmed on Thursday as both sides managed to thrash out a post-Brexit free trade agreement (FTA) just days before the December 31 deadline.

Thousands of pages of legal text accompanies the deal, with details of the agreement set to emerge in the course of the next few days, including the final ratification of the FTA by Parliaments on both sides.

'We have got Brexit done and we can now take full advantage of the fantastic opportunities available to us as an independent trading nation, striking trade deals with other partners around the world,' Downing Street said in a statement.

'We have signed the first free trade agreement based on zero tariffs and zero quotas that has ever been achieved with the EU. The deal is the biggest bilateral trade deal signed by either side, covering trade worth GBP 668 billion in 2019,' it said, adding that the UK has taken back control of its 'money, borders, laws, trade and our fishing waters'.

'The deal also guarantees that we are no longer in the lunar pull of the EU, we are not bound by EU rules, there is no role for the European Court of Justice and all of our key red lines about returning sovereignty have been achieved. It means that we will have full political and economic independence on 1st January 2021,' Downing Street declared.

On the other side, the EU said it has a good deal to show for the 'long and winding road'.

'We have finally got a deal, a fair and responsible deal,' European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said at a press conference from Brussels.

'The EU rules and standards will be respected... the United Kingdom is a long-standing partner,' she said, adding that while 'parting was such sweet sorrow' it was time to look to the future as the UK is now classified as a 'third country' in relation to the economic bloc.

Earlier, it had emerged that crunch talks overnight meant UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson summoned his Cabinet for a late Wednesday night conference call to indicate that a post-Brexit trade agreement is ready to be signed off soon.

Johnson and Von Der Leyen have been in close contact over the past few days as the December 31 transition period cut-off loomed over the negotiations, which have missed repeated deadlines as they failed to agree on key areas of fishing rights in each other’s waters and competition rules that would apply to the UK as a non-member of the 27-member economic bloc.

According to early reports, both sides have come to a base agreement which would ensure most of the current tariff-free, quota-free arrangement but unlikely to mean entirely frictionless trade as businesses had hoped.

The UK Parliament needs to ratify the deal and as it has already risen for Christmas break, the likelihood is that MPs will be recalled to the House of Commons next week for urgent business. Johnson’s comfortable majority in the Commons means the deal is likely to be signed off in time.

On the EU side, the European Parliament would then ratify the agreement, which is expected in the New Year and with all the member-countries briefed on it, they are unlikely to exercise their veto powers.

It has now been four and half years since Britain voted to exit the EU in a referendum in June 2016. It officially left at the end of January this year and entered into an 11-month transition period, or a phase of status quo, to hammer out a new free trade agreement.

However, the last few months and weeks have proved particularly tense on the path to such an agreement, with the UK concerned about the EU’s insistence to close alignment to its rules even after Brexit and the EU accusing the UK of expecting unfair advantages.

The main sticking points were fishing rights and the so-called 'level playing field' – measures to prevent what is seen as unfair competition through the lowering of standards or the use of state subsidies.

While the Johnson-led government insisted that it would make the most of a no-deal Brexit too, there were widespread concerns that leaving without a deal and consequently having to trade on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms from January 1, 2021, would cause major hurdles for business and push up prices for consumers. PTI AK ZH ZH