On Christmas Eve, a week before the end of the Brexit transition period, a landmark agreement was reached on the UK’s future trade and security relationship with the European Union.
As the country leaves the single market and the customs union on December 31, new agreements will enter into force allowing for duty-free trade in goods and close police and judicial cooperation.
The announcement followed a final morning call between Boris Johnson in Downing Street and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at her Berlaymont headquarters in Brussels, the fifth such telephone conversation in the past 24 hours.
The 2,000-page trade agreement is unprecedented in scope and contains provisions on topics ranging from civil nuclear cooperation and energy interconnections to fisheries and aviation.
The prime minister told his cabinet late Wednesday night that he respected the sovereignty of both parties, and urged important figures to help him sell it.
On Wednesday, the European Brexiter Research Group of Conservative MPs said it would ask a self-described “star chamber” of lawyers to scrutinize the terms before giving its support.
The deal avoids a no-deal exit that the Office of Budget Responsibility warned would cut Britain’s economic output by £ 40bn in 2021 and cost more than 300,000 jobs.
The UK left the EU on January 31, but has benefited from remaining in the single market and the customs union for the past year, and British citizens retain the right to freedom of movement throughout the bloc.
The end of the transition period will bring widespread change for British businesses and citizens, as it begins a new chapter in the country’s relationship with its neighbors.
Companies will face additional paperwork and costs when trading with the UK’s largest export market. Freedom of movement for the majority of UK citizens will end, with restrictions imposed on stays in EU member states. As the EU’s “third country”, coronavirus travel restrictions could be imposed on UK citizens from 1 January.
Nonetheless, the agreement will bring a great relief to millions of people on both sides, four and a half years since the UK decided to leave the EU in June 2016. The negotiations, held in Brussels and London, had been precariously through a pandemic. , seeming doomed on several points.
Just two weeks ago, Johnson told the Cabinet to prepare for a no-deal exit, warning the public that such an eventuality was “very, very likely.”
The sticking points at the end of the talks had been the EU’s access to British fishing waters and Brussels’ demand for rules ensuring that neither side could gain a competitive advantage in trade, as their rule book diverged. over time.
In recent days, it had been the future access of the EU and quotas in British fishing waters, an issue of small economic impact but of great political relevance for both parties, that made the difference between an agreement and a break in the conversations.
The EU had offered a six-year transition period to gradually introduce a 25% reduction in catch per value caught by European fleets in British waters, with guaranteed access to a zone six to 12 nautical miles from the British coast.
Downing Street had tabled a counterproposal for a three-year transition period with a 60% reduction and no access to the nautical zone.
The commitment involves a transition period of five and a half years to introduce the changes in stages, according to the sources, and the United Kingdom accepts a repatriation of 25% of the quotas. But Downing Street has cracked down on attempts by the EU to set up a mechanism whereby future quota changes could lead to tariffs on British exports. The problem had been key to No 10’s claims to have regained control of British waters.
Following the announcement of an agreement, the European Commission sent the draft treaty to member states. If all 27 capitals are satisfied with the agreement, the EU council ministers will agree on the provisional application of the agreement on January 1.
The EU ambassadors were due to meet on Thursday morning to take the first step. The European parliament declined to hold a consent vote this year given the lack of time for scrutiny. MEPs will give their opinion at the end of next month.
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