EU member states begin process to approve Brexit trade deal

Details of the historic free trade agreement between the UK and EU have been published in full, as EU ambassadors began the process of assessing and approving the terms of the deal before the end of the year.

The landmark trade deal, which was announced by UK prime minister Boris Johnson and the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, on Thursday, will come into provisional force on January 1, and will be the biggest bilateral trade deal signed by either side, covering trade worth around £660bn. 

The deal, which followed nine months of tense negotiations, will guarantee tariff-free trade on most goods and create a platform for future co-operation on issues such as crime-fighting, energy and data sharing. However concerns are emerging surrounding the support for UK businesses, which will have to transition to the new trading arrangement from next week.

The 1,246 page document, which has been categorised into seven parts, has been described by the UK’s chief negotiator David Frost as “the beginning of a moment of national renewal”, allowing the UK to establish laws on its own terms. “This is one of the biggest and broadest agreements ever,” Lord Frost added.

In the contentious area of fisheries, the UK will depart from the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy and establish a new identity as a “sovereign independent coastal state”, according to details published in a separate 34-page summary of the deal. The agreement establishes a five-and-half-year transition period where EU access to UK waters will decline by 25 per cent. After this, the two sides will hold annual quota negotiations.

The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisation said that the sector was “sacrificed for other national objectives” and argued that the deal will be regarded as a “defeat” for the industry.

Responding to the criticism, a senior member of the UK’s negotiating team said: “The crucial thing on fisheries policy is that although there is a transition, at the end of the transition it returns to normal arrangements and we have full control over our waters.”

On Christmas Day, EU ambassadors from the 27 member states were briefed on the agreement by Brussels’ chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. They have started the process of giving their assent to the deal, which will be provisionally applied from January 1. The European parliament is due to vote on ratifying the deal in full in the new year.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove wrote in the The Times newspaper on Saturday that the UK and EU could develop a “special relationship” after January 1 and outlined what he argued were the long-term benefits of the deal. However, he admitted that in the short term companies and individuals would need to “adjust to new customs processes and border procedures”.

Sam Lowe, a senior research fellow at think-tank the Centre for European Reform warned that businesses could face a “rocky readjustment period” in the new year.

“While businesses will most certainly welcome the deal, they will suffer from the lack of an additional grace, or implementation, period to allow them more time to prepare for the change,” he said.

Mr Lowe added: “There is no legal reason why a further implementation period couldn’t have been included in the trade deal — be it a temporary partial extension of the status quo, or mutually agreed flexibility at the border”.

The deal provides a maximum six-month grace period to continue the exchange of private data flows for UK and EU companies. The arrangement gives time for the EU to grant the UK an “adequacy” decision that recognises British data protection standards as robust enough to allow EU citizens’ private information to flow freely to the UK. A senior EU official said the adequacy decision was likely in the “coming weeks”.

In his Christmas message to the public, Mr Johnson praised the new deal, arguing that it was “a deal to give certainty to business, travellers, and all investors in our country”. He said that the new arrangement would be “the basis of a happy and successful and stable partnership” with the EU.”

Parliament will be recalled on December 30 to enable MPs to scrutinise the new legislation ahead of the end of the transition period next week. 

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said that his party will back the deal, arguing that at a moment of such “national significance”, it would not be “credible” for his party to be on the “sidelines”.

While the deal is expected to pass in Parliament, Mr Johnson is also keen to squash any potential backbench rebellion. Ahead of the announcement on Thursday, members of the Eurosceptic European Research Group said that they would reconvene a “star chamber” of legal experts to analyse the legislation.

The prime minister reportedly urged Conservative MPs in a series of WhatsApp messages to back the agreement, saying that the provisions within the deal would satisfy the concerns of hardline Brexiters. “I know the devil is in the detail but I am sure this can survive the most ruthless and Talmudic scrutiny from the star chamber legal eagles”, he reportedly wrote.

Additional reporting by Peter Foster in London

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