politics

Brexit trade deal approved unanimously by EU ambassadors


T

he post-Brexit trade deal between the UK and EU has been unanimously approved by ambassadors of the bloc’s 27 member nations, clearing the latest hurdle to the agreement coming provisionally into effect on New Year’s Day.

Germany, which holds the EU presidency, said the decision came during a meeting of EU ambassadors to assess the Christmas Eve agreement.

“Green light,” said Germany’s spokesman Sebastian Fischer. “Ambassadors have unanimously approved the provisional application of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement as of January 1, 2021.”

The approval had been expected after the deal was warmly received by EU leaders. It still needs approval from the EU’s legislature, which is expected to come in February.

Lawmakers in the UK are expected to approve the deal on Wednesday. 

The announcement came as Cabinet Minister Michael Gove insisted that the agreement was the “best possible deal” for UK fishing, after industry leaders accused Boris Johnson of a betrayal over fishing rights.

A major funding package will be announced for the sector in the “near future” to help it to take full advantage of Brexit, Mr Gove said.

Despite the optimism and triumph evinced by Boris Johnson following the Christmas Eve agreement, his government has continued to warn businesses for disruptions and “bumpy moments” when the new rules take effect on Thursday night.

The agreement, hammered out after nine months of tense negotiations, will ensure Britain and the 27-nation bloc can continue to trade in goods without tariffs or quotas. That should help protect the £660 billion pounds in annual trade between the two sides, and the hundreds of thousands of jobs that rely on it.

But the end to Britain’s membership in the EU’s vast single market and customs union will still bring inconvenience and new expenses for both individuals and businesses — from the need for tourists to have travel insurance to the millions of new customs declarations that firms will have to fill out.

“Businesses will need to make sure that they’re ready for new customs procedures and we as individuals will need to make sure that our passports are up to date because they need to have at least six months before expiry on them in order to be able to travel abroad,” said Mr Gove, who is in charge of the Government’s Brexit preparations.

“I’m sure there will be bumpy moments but we are there in order to try to do everything we can to smooth the path,” he told the BBC.

Prime Minister Johnson’s Conservative government argues that any short-term disruption from Brexit will be worth it, because the UK will now be free to set its own rules and strike new trade deals around the world.

Yet an ominous preview of what could happen if UK-EU trade faces heavy restrictions came this month when France briefly closed its border with Britain because of a highly transmissible new variant of the coronavirus sweeping through London and southern England.

Thousands of trucks were stuck in traffic jams or parked at a disused airfield near the English Channel port of Dover for days and supermarkets warned that some goods, including fresh produce would soon run short.

Even after France relented and agreed to let in truckers who tested negative for the virus, the backlog of 15,000 drivers who now needed tests took days to clear.

( AP )

Hardline pro-Brexit legislators in the Conservative Party are poring over the agreement to see whether it meets their goal of a decisive break from the bloc. The main opposition Labour Party says the deal will hurt Britain’s economy but it will back it anyway because it is better than a chaotic no-deal split on January 1.

Despite the deal, uncertainty hangs over huge chunks of the relationship between Britain and the EU. The agreement covers trade in goods, but leaves the UK’s huge financial services sector in limbo, still uncertain how easily it can do business with the bloc.

The British territory of Gibraltar, which sees thousands of workers cross over daily from Spain, is also in limbo since it was not included in the deal.

And Brexit deal has angered one of the sectors the government stressed it would protect: fishing. The economically minor but hugely symbolic issue of fishing rights was a sticking point in negotiations, with maritime EU nations seeking to retain access to UK waters, and Britain insisting it must control its seas.

Under the deal, the EU will give up a quarter of the quota it catches in UK waters, far less than the 80 per cent that Britain initially demanded. The system will be phased in over 5 1/2 years, after which the quotas will be reassessed.

“I am angry, disappointed and betrayed,” said Andrew Locker, chairman of Britain’s National Federation of Fishermen’s Organizations. “Boris Johnson promised us the rights to all the fish that swim in our exclusive economic zone and we have got a fraction of that.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article



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