All member states are expected to back the agreement as is the European Parliament, which can only give its consent retrospectively as it can’t reconvene until 2021. British MPs have to give their approval, too, and are being summoned next week to vote on the accord.
Both sides claim the agreement protects their cherished goals.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it gives the UK control over its money, borders, laws and fishing grounds. The EU says it protects its single market of around 450 million people and contains safeguards to ensure the UK does not unfairly undercut the bloc’s standards.
Johnson hailed the agreement as a “new beginning” for the UK in its relationship with European neighbours. Opposition leaders, even those who are minded to back it because it’s better than a no-deal scenario, said it adds unnecessary costs on businesses and fails to provide a clear framework for the crucial services sector, which accounts for 80 per cent of the British economy.
In a Christmas message, Johnson sought to sell the deal to a weary public after years of Brexit-related wrangling since the UK voted narrowly to leave the EU in 2016. Although the UK formally left the bloc on January 31, it remains in a transition period tied to EU rules until the end of this year.
Without a trade deal, tariffs would have been imposed on trade between the two sides on January 1.
“I have a small present for anyone who may be looking for something to read in that sleepy post-Christmas lunch moment, and here it is, tidings, glad tidings of great joy, because this is a deal,” Johnson said in his video message, brandishing a sheaf of papers.
“A deal to give certainty to business, travellers and all investors in our country from Jan. 1. A deal with our friends and partners in the EU,” he said.
Though tariffs and quotas have been avoided, there will be more red tape as the UK is leaving the EU’s frictionless single market. Firms will have to file forms and customs declarations for the first time in years. There will also be different rules on product labelling as well as checks on agricultural products.
One sector that appears to be disappointed is the fishing industry with both sides voicing their discontent at the new arrangements. Arguments over fishing rights were largely behind the delay in reaching an agreement.
Under the terms of the deal, the EU will give up a quarter of the quota it catches in UK waters, far less than the 80 per cent Britain initially demanded. The system will be phased in over five years, after which quotas will be reassessed.
“In the end, it was clear that Boris Johnson wanted an overall trade deal and was willing to sacrifice fishing,” said Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations.
The French government, which had fought hard for fishing access, announced aid for its fishing industry to help deal with the smaller quota, but insisted that the deal protects French interests.
The president of the French ports of Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer, Jean-Marc Puissesseau, said no matter what is in the Brexit trade deal, life for his port will become more difficult because “there will no longer be free movement of merchandise”.
Some 10,000 jobs in the Boulogne area are tied to fishing and its seafood-processing industry, he said, and about 70 per cent of the seafood they use comes from British waters.