Britain clinches a narrow Brexit trade deal with European Union
Britain clinched a narrow Brexit trade deal with the European Union on Thursday, just seven days before it exits one of the world’s biggest trading blocs in its most significant global shift since the loss of empire.
The deal, agreed more than four years after Britain voted to leave the bloc by a slim margin, offers a way out of a chaotic finale to a divorce that has shaken the 70-year project to forge European unity from the ruins of World War Two.
It will preserve Britain’s zero-tariff and zero-quota access to the bloc’s single market of 450 million consumers, but will not prevent economic pain and disruption for the United Kingdom or for EU member states.
Many aspects of Britain’s future relationship with the EU remain to be hammered out, possibly over years.
“We have taken back control of our destiny,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters after tweeting a picture of himself raising both arms in a thumbs-up gesture of triumph.
“People said it was impossible, but we have taken back control.”
The UK formally left the EU on Jan. 31 but has since been in a transition period under which rules on trade, travel and business remained unchanged until the end of this year.
Johnson, the face of the pro-Brexit campaign, had said that since 52% had voted to leave the EU, he did not want to accept the rules of its single market or its customs union after Jan. 1.
The EU did not want to give unfettered privileges to a freewheeling, deregulated British economy outside the bloc, and so potentially encourage others to leave – resulting in a tortuous negotiation.
“It was a long and winding road,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters, quoting the Paul McCartney song. “But we have got a good deal to show for it… Finally we can leave Brexit behind us and look to the future. Europe is now moving on.”
Johnson described the last-minute agreement as a “jumbo” free trade deal along the lines of that done between the European Union and Canada, and urged Britain to move on from the divisions caused by the 2016 Brexit referendum.
The deal will also support the peace in Northern Ireland – a priority for U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who had warned Johnson that he must uphold the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
EU member Ireland said the deal, which the Commission website said would be published soon, protected its interests as well as could possibly have been hoped.
But it left much of the detail still to be worked out.
The trade pact will not cover services, which make up 80% of the British economy, including a banking industry that positions London as the only financial capital to rival New York.
Access to the EU market for UK-based banks, insurers and asset managers will become patchy at best.
Johnson said the deal did not contain as much as he would have liked on regulatory equivalence for financial services, but still contained some “good language”.
JPMorgan said the EU had secured a deal that allowed it retain nearly all of its advantages from trade with the UK but with the ability to use regulations to “cherry pick” among sectors where the UK had advantages – such as services.
“The unity and strength of Europe paid off,” French President Emmanuel Macron said. “The agreement with the United Kingdom is essential to protect our citizens, our fishermen, our producers. We will make sure that this is the case.”
Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage said the deal would keep the UK far too closely aligned with the EU, adding that he hoped this would be the beginning of the end of the bloc.
Even with a deal, goods trade will have more rules, more red tape and more cost. There will be some disruption at ports. Everything from food safety regulation and exporting rules to product certification will change.
~Photo: Unsplash/Franz Wender