London, United Kingdom – The clock, as Michel Barnier said, is no longer ticking.
About four and a half years after a slim majority of Britons voted to bring the UK out of European Union orbit, the UK and the EU at last signed a historic trade agreement Thursday.
The annual pact of 660 billion pounds (900 billion dollars) will determine the terms of the couple’s relationship from 2021 and was reached after months of missed deadlines, acrimonious postures and tense negotiations marred by divisions on the rights fisheries, competition rules and governance issues.
The deal came exactly one week before the UK left the EU’s single market and customs union on December 31, at the end of the Brexit transition period.
Announcing the landmark deal, Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said on Thursday it was a ‘day of relief’ tinged with ‘some sadness as we compare what came before with what lies ahead. “.
Here’s what you need to know:
What happens next?
The parliaments of the UK and the EU must act quickly to ratify the agreement, which has yet to be published but is around 1,500 pages long.
Both legislative bodies are expected to approve the deal. However, due to the short time remaining in the transition period, it will not be fully ratified until next year.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to submit the deal to the British Parliament for a vote on December 30.
MEPs are expected to give their approval to the pact. Johnson’s ruling Conservative Party enjoys a sizable parliamentary majority and opposition Labor has confirmed it will support the deal, as the only alternative to a chaotic no-deal Brexit scenario.
But the European Parliament has ruled out rushing ratification before the end of this year. Instead, the legislator will analyze the pact before deciding whether or not to approve it in 2021.
This process is unlikely to prevent the agreement from entering into force on January 1, as EU law includes a mechanism for the agreements to be applied on a provisional basis without the agreement of its parliament – if they are approved by the 27 Member States.
American diplomats started to evaluate the deal on Friday – Christmas Day – and should take two or three days to weigh the terms.
Member states will then have to agree by December 31 to approve the provisional implementation so that the deal enters into force as expected early next year.
What will change on January 1?
The deal will ensure goods can continue to travel between the UK and the EU without tariffs or quotas from early 2021, smoothing out trade worth hundreds of billions of pounds – and euros – per year between the two.
It is complemented by other agreements on a series of other issues, including energy, transport and police and security cooperation.
But even with the deal reached, some friction will affect UK-EU trade from January 1.
More rules and increased bureaucracy will kick in once the UK is outside the single market and the bloc’s customs union, and analysts warn that this is unlikely to translate into ” smooth navigation ”.
“Although there are no tariffs on goods moving between the UK and the EU, there will be new non-tariff barriers – new controls and red tape – which will make trade more expensive, ”Maddy Thimont Jack, a Brexit researcher at the British Institute for Government, told Al Jazeera.
The new rules and requirements could also disrupt the flow of goods, causing problems for businesses that depend on just-in-time supply chains and, in the worst-case scenario, food shortages in the UK if border points become blocked. .
In the meantime, the pact will see the UK leave the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, reducing the bloc’s access to its waters.
Fish became a totemic issue in trade negotiations, as the industry accounted for less than 0.1% of the UK’s gross domestic product (GDP).
But the deal does not include provisions on financial services, which make up four-fifths of the UK economy, meaning that UK financial sector’s overall access to the EU’s single market will end on January 1 .
It also does not contain mutual recognition of professional qualifications, which means that UK doctors, architects, veterinarians and engineers, among others, will have to seek recognition in the Member State in which they wish to practice from the start of the course. next year.
The rules governing how Brits and Europeans travel, live and work will all be fundamentally changed, with free movement between the UK and the EU ending on January 1.
UK citizens will need a visa to stay more than 90 days in EU member states within a period of 180 days and EU pet passports will no longer be valid.
“Leaving the single market and the customs union essentially means a lot more red tape. This is both for companies looking to do trade with the EU, but also for people who travel there on vacation, with pets or who want to settle there in the future ”, said Thimont-Jack.
“It will be impossible to minimize all the disruption – but the most important thing will be, when people or businesses get it wrong, to explain what to do instead and to make it as easy as possible,” he said. -she adds.
Further changes that will take effect from January 1 will see the UK no longer being bound by judgments of the European Court of Justice, no longer participating in the Erasmus student exchange program and no longer having access automatically to the main EU security databases.
What was the reaction to the deal?
Johnson on Thursday hailed triumphantly the conclusion of what he called “the biggest trade deal to date,” adding that the UK had regained control of its laws, borders and fishing waters.
He urged the British to make the most of what he called the country’s future status as a ‘newly and truly independent nation’, and in nod to the EU, said the UK would remain its ally and its “number one market”. .
EU officials took a darker tone, with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen saying the separation of the two men was “such a sweet pain”.
“We have finally found an agreement. It has been a long and winding road, but we have a lot to show, ”von der Leyen said on Thursday. “It’s time to quit Brexit. Our future is in Europe, ”she added.
Across the continent, meanwhile, many capitals were quick to express relief that a no-deal divorce had been averted, with a series of leaders issuing statements. welcoming the agreement.
Who “won” in the end?
Both sides will sell the deal as a victory, although in reality each has compromised to get a deal.
The EU can claim to have protected the integrity of its single market, while Johnson can tell British voters he has kept his promise to ‘do Brexit’ and get the UK out of the bloc, with a trade deal to start.
Anand Menon, UK director at a changing European think tank, said the pact amounted to “a very good result for both sides” given their respective ambitions.
“Basically, the EU has an agreement that allows trade in goods to continue, that’s where their surplus is, and puts all kinds of obstacles in the way of services, where there is. ‘UK surplus,’ Menon said. Al Jazeera.
“And for Boris Johnson, it’s about getting that through with as little political hindsight as possible,” he added.
“It was never about maximizing economic benefits or anything like that, it was about respecting the red lines, and I think so far the portents are all very, very good for it. him. [Johnson]. “
However, Menon also warned that “one way or another” Brexit will continue to “haunt” British politics, in particular, for years to come.
He predicted that there would be “all kinds of issues” raised by the implementation of the trade agreement, highlighting a potential disruption to trade, the protocol of the agreement for Northern Ireland and also its possible effect. on Scottish politics – where the ruling Nationalist Party is pushing for a second independence referendum on Brexit – as areas of trouble ahead.
Northern Ireland, which is an integral part of the UK, will effectively remain in the EU customs union and single market for goods after December 31 to prevent the erection of a hard border between it and the neighboring Republic of Ireland, a member of the EU.
“Brexit is basically like throwing a huge brick into a very still pond,” Menon said. “There will be heaps and heaps and heaps of ripples for ages.”