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

Williams Lake First Nation provides a community COVID-19 update Friday, Jan. 15. (Williams Lake First Nation Facebook image)
Williams Lake First Nation Chief highlights importance of mental health amid COVID-19 outbreak

A time to be forgiving, sincere and loving, says Willie Sellars

Interior Health confirmed Friday, Jan. 15, there are now six staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19 at Cariboo Memorial Hospital. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
UPDATE: Six Cariboo Memorial Hospital staff members test positive for COVID-19

Interior Health said Friday, Jan. 15 testing is ongoing

Interior Health update. File photo.
86 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

The new deaths are from Heritage Square, a long-term care facility in Vernon

The worker who tested positive was en route to the Mine Site near Wells. (BGM Map)
Wells mining company detects second positive COVID-19 case of 2021

The employee, who is asympomatic, had no known contact with Wells or Quesnel

Cale Murdock, 23, has been training with the Williams Lake Blue Fins and is hoping for an opportunity to compete at the Canadian Olympic Trials in April in Toronto, depending on whether they still take place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Greg Sabatino photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Blue Fins swimmer Cale Murdock preparing for Canadian Olympic Trials in April

Cale Murdock was selected as one of the top 20 swimmers in the country in his events to attend

Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the press theatre at the B.C. legislature for an update on COVID-19, Jan. 7, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 spread steady with 509 new cases Friday

Hospitalized and critical care cases decline, nine deaths

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

A COVID-19 outbreak at Vernon's Heritage Square long-term care home has claimed seven people. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Two more COVID-19 deaths at Vernon care home

Heritage Square has now lost seven people due to the outbreak

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government reinforces importance of anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality