A cleaner sweeps the pavement front of 10 Downing Street in London, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020. Negotiators from the European Union and Britain worked through the night and right into Christmas Eve to put the finishing touches on a trade deal that should avert a chaotic economic break between the two sides on New Year’s Day. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

A cleaner sweeps the pavement front of 10 Downing Street in London, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020. Negotiators from the European Union and Britain worked through the night and right into Christmas Eve to put the finishing touches on a trade deal that should avert a chaotic economic break between the two sides on New Year’s Day. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Breakthrough: UK and EU reach post-Brexit trade agreement

The British and European parliaments both must hold votes on the agreement

After months of talks and at almost the last minute, Britain and the European Union struck a provisional free-trade agreement Thursday that should avert New Year chaos for cross-border traders and bring a measure of certainty for businesses after years of Brexit turmoil.

With just over a week until the U.K.’s final split from the EU, the British government said the “deal is done.”

It said the deal was “the first free trade agreement based on zero tariffs and zero quotas that has ever been achieved with the EU.”

EU officials also confirmed an agreement had been reached.

“So we have finally found an agreement. It was a long and winding road but we have got a good deal to show for it,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. “It is fair, it is a balanced deal and it is the right and responsible thing to do for both sides.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was expected to make a statement shortly.

The deal ensures the two sides can continue to trade in goods without tariffs or quotas. But despite the breakthrough, key aspects of the future relationship between the 27-nation bloc and its former member remain uncertain.

The British and European parliaments both must hold votes on the agreement, though the latter may not happen until after the U.K. leaves the EU’s economic embrace on Jan. 1.

Months of tense and often testy negotiations gradually whittled differences between the two sides down to three key issues: fair-competition rules, mechanisms for resolving future disputes and fishing rights. The rights of EU boats to trawl in British waters remained the last obstacle before it was resolved.

However, key aspects of the future relationship between the 27-nation bloc and its former member remain unresolved.

Johnson had insisted the U.K. would “prosper mightily” even if no deal were reached and the U.K. had to trade with the EU on World Trade Organization terms. But his government has acknowledged that a chaotic exit was likely to bring gridlock at Britain’s ports, temporary shortages of some goods and price increases for staple foods.

The EU has long feared that Britain would undercut the bloc’s social, environmental and state aid rules after Brexit, becoming a low-regulation rival on the bloc’s doorstep. Britain denies planning to institute weaker standards but said that having to continue following EU regulations would undermine its sovereignty.

A compromise was eventually reached on the tricky “level playing field” issues. The economically minor but hugely symbolic issue of fish came to be the final sticking point, with maritime EU nations seeking to retain access to U.K. waters where they have long fished and Britain insisting it must exercise control as an “independent coastal state,”

Huge gaps over fishing were gradually closed over weeks of intense negotiations in Brussels, even as Johnson continued to insist that a no-deal exit was a likely and satisfactory outcome to the nine months of talks on the future relationship between the EU and its ex-member nation.

It has been 4 1/2 years since Britons voted 52%-48% to leave the EU and — in the words of the Brexiteers’ campaign slogan — “take back control” of the U.K.’s borders and laws.

It took more than three years of wrangling before Britain left the bloc’s political structures on Jan. 31. Disentangling economies that were closely entwined as part of the EU’s single market for goods and services took even longer.

The U.K. has remained part of the single market and customs union during an 11-month post-Brexit transition period. As a result, many people so far will have noticed little impact from Brexit.

On Jan. 1, the breakup will start feeling real. The new year will bring huge changes, even with a trade deal. No longer will goods and people be able to move freely between the U.K. and its continental neighbours without border restrictions.

EU nationals will no longer be able to live and work in Britain without visas — though that does not apply to the more than 3 million already doing so — and Britons can no longer automatically work or retire in EU nations. Exporters and importers face customs declarations, goods checks and other obstacles.

The U.K.-EU border is already reeling from new restrictions placed on travellers from Britain into France and other European countries due to a new coronavirus variant sweeping through London and southern England. Thousands of trucks were stuck in traffic jams near Dover on Wednesday, waiting for their drivers to get virus tests so they could enter the Eurotunnel to France.

British supermarkets say the backlog will take days to clear and there could be shortages of some fresh produce over the holiday season.

Despite the deal, there are still unanswered questions about huge areas, including security co-operation between the U.K. and the bloc and access to the EU market for Britain’s huge financial services sector.

___

Lawless reported from London.

___

Raf Casert And Jill Lawless, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Brexit

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Those who walk by the welcome figure often touch hands with it. (Screenshot/Jessica Poirier)
‘A presence in the school’: The story behind Hope Secondary’s welcome figure

After a year’s worth of delays due to COVID, the welcome figure… Continue reading

Former Merritt Centennial and current Chilliwack Chief Jackson Munro (left) evades Merritt’s Chase Cook during a weekend BCHL game at the Chilliwack Coliseum. (Darren Francis photo)
Goalies lead Chilliwack Chiefs to pair of wins in weekend BCHL action

Mathieu Caron picked up a shutout Friday and Jakob Gullmes earned his first BCHL victory Sunday

Environment Canada says the Eastern Fraser Valley will enjoy plenty of sunshine this week. (Black Press News File)
Sunny weather to stay around all week in Eastern Fraser Valley

Chilliwack, Abbotsford and Hope all forecasted for a week free of rainfall

Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld has called for the resignation of B.C.’s Minister of Education, Jennifer Whiteside. He made the call during a speech in Vancouver on April 10, 2021, in a rally for a parent embroiled in legal battles surrounding his child’s transition.
Chilliwack school trustee calls for B.C.’s minister of education to resign

Barry Neufeld spoke at rally for jailed father in Vancouver, calling SOGI 123 a ‘dangerous experiment’

People take part in an anti-curfew protest in Montreal on Sunday April 11, 2021. Hundreds of people gathered in Old Montreal tonight in defiance of a new 8 p.m. curfew. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Giuseppe Valiante
VIDEO: Hundreds defy Montreal’s 8 p.m. curfew in violent, destructive protest

Quebec reported 1,535 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, as well as five additional deaths linked to the virus

Photos of Vancouver Canucks players are pictured outside the closed box office of Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver Thursday, April 8, 2021. The Vancouver Canucks say 25 players and coaches have tested positive during a COVID-19 outbreak that involves a variant of the virus. It is now the biggest reported outbreak in the NHL this season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canucks’ return to practice pushed back as player added to COVID protocol list

COVID outbreak has led to eight games being cancelled

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

Most Read