Ambassadors of the 27-nation bloc have all approved a post-Brexit trade deal with Britain, fulfilling a prerequisite for the agreement to come into effect on January 1, 2021.
European Union nations have unanimously approved the post-Brexit trade deal with the United Kingdom, a prerequisite for the agreement to come into operation on New Year’s Day.
Germany, which holds the EU presidency, said the decision came during a meeting of EU ambassadors on Monday 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 ever since the deal was announced and all EU leaders warmly welcomed it.
It still needs approval from the EU’s legislature, which is expected to come in February.
The UK’s House of Commons is expected to approve it on Wednesday.
Four days after sealing a free trade agreement with the EU, the British government warned businesses to get ready for disruptions and “bumpy moments” when the new rules take effect on Thursday night.
Businesses were scrambling on Monday to digest the details and implications of the 1,240-page deal sealed by the EU and the UK on Christmas Eve.
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 Michael Gove, the British Cabinet minister in charge of 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.
No tariffs or quotas
The UK left the EU almost a year ago, but remained within the bloc's economic embrace during a transition period that ends at 2300 GMT (midnight Brussels time, 11 pm in London) on December 31.
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 $894 billion (660 billion pounds) in annual trade between the two sides, and the hundreds of thousands of jobs that rely on it.
New trade deals
British Prime Minister Boris 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.
Sectors in limbo
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 after January 1.
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 percent that Britain initially demanded. The system will be phased in over five and a half 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.”