National Post (National Edition)
Brexit deal avoids bitter breakup
The U.K. clinched a historic trade deal with the European Union, avoiding a bitter breakup and preparing the ground for a new relationship with its biggest commercial partner.
Negotiators finalized the accord to complete Britain's separation from the bloc on Christmas Eve, just a week before the country leaves the EU's single market and customs union.
It brings an end to more than four years of tortured divorce proceedings, triggered by a referendum that transformed British politics and the country's connections to the rest of Europe. But there are still risks for U.K. businesses as the new rules come into effect in the days ahead, and the government faces a long-term battle to prove the painful separation was worth it.
Securing a deal has “resolved a question that has bedevilled our politics for decades,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a press conference. “We were told we couldn't have our cake and eat it,” the premier said when asked about the compromises that had to be made. “I'm not going to claim that this is a `cakeist' treaty, but it is I believe what the country needs at this time.”
“It was a long and winding road — but we have got a 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.”
The agreement — more than 400 pages with an additional 800 pages of annexes — will be put to a vote in the U.K. parliament on Wednesday, and with the opposition Labour Party promising to back it, Johnson's accord is virtually certain to become law. EU government envoys in Brussels on Friday unanimously endorsed a statement notifying the European Parliament that the trade deal with the U.K. will go into effect on a provisional basis on Jan. 1, a spokesman for the German presidency of the bloc said in a tweet.
Formal ratification will take another four months, and is subject to approval by the EU Parliament. The backing of government representatives at the Christmas Day meeting confirms that no EU member state objects to the deal.
The deal radically overhauls the framework for businesses on both sides of the Channel and frees the British Parliament from many of the constraints imposed by EU membership. It will allow for tariff and quota-free trade in goods after Dec. 31, but that won't apply to the services industry — about 80 per cent of the U.K. economy — or the financial services sector.
Firms exporting goods will also face a race to prepare for the return of customs and border checks at the year-end amid warnings of disruption at Britain's ports. Businesses will still face border checks, and consumers in Northern Ireland face the prospect of shortages of some goods as firms adjust to the new paperwork.