The Mercury News Weekend

Britain ends long journey with economic break from EU

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LONDON >> Britain’s long and sometimes acrimoniou­s divorce from the European Union ended Thursday with an economic split that leaves the EU smaller and the U.K. freer but more isolated in a turbulent world.

Britain left the European bloc’s vast single market for people, goods and services at 11 p.m. London time, midnight in Brussels, completing the biggest single economic change the country has experience­d since World War II. A different U.K.-EU trade deal will bring new restrictio­ns and red tape, but for British Brexit supporters, it means reclaiming national independen­ce from the EU and its web of rules.

Pr ime Minister Bo - ris Johnson, whose support for Brexit helped push the country out of the EU, called it “an amazing moment for this country.”

“We have our freedom in our hands, and it is up to us to make the most of it,” he said in a New Year’s video message.

T he break comes 11 months after a political Brexit that left the two sides in the limbo of a “transition period” — like a separated couple still living together, wrangling and wondering whether they can remain friends. Now the U.K. has finally moved out.

It was a day some had longed for and others dreaded since Britain voted in a 2016 referendum to leave the EU, but it turned out to be something of an anticlimax. U.K. lockdown measures to curb the coronaviru­s curtailed mass gatherings to celebrate or mourn the moment, though a handful of Brexit supporters defied the restrictio­ns to raise a toast outside Parliament as the Big Ben bell sounded 11 times on the hour.

A free trade agreement sealed on Christmas Eve after months of tense negotiatio­ns ensures that Britain and the 27-nation EU can continue to buy and sell goods without tariffs or quotas. That should help protect the 660 billion pounds ($894 billion) in annual trade between the two sides, and the hundreds of thousands of jobs that rely on it.

But companies face sheaves of new costs and paperwork, including customs declaratio­ns and border checks. Traders are struggling to digest the new rules imposed by the 1,200page trade deal.

The English Channel port of Dover and the Eurotunnel passenger and freight route braced for delays as the new measures were introduced, though the pandemic and a holiday weekend meant cross- Channel traffic was light, with only a trickle of trucks arriving at French border posts in Calais as 2020 ended. The vital supply route was snarled for days after France closed its border to U.K. truckers for 48 hours last week in response to a fast-spreading variant of the virus identified in England.

The British government insisted that “the border systems and infrastruc­ture we need are in place, and we are ready for the U.K.’s new start.”

But freight companies were holding their breath. Youngs Transporta­tion in the U.K. suspended services to the EU until Jan. 11 “to let things settle.”

T he ser v ices sector, which makes up 80% of Britain’s economy, does not even know what the rules will be for business with the EU in 2021. Many of the details have yet to be hammered out. Months and years of further discussion and argument over everything from fair competitio­n to fish quotas lie ahead as Britain and the EU settle into their new relationsh­ip as friends, neighbors and rivals.

 ?? MATT DUNHAM — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? People raise a glass and celebrate in Parliament Square in London as the bell known as Big Ben strikes the hour when Britain ends its transition period and formally leaves the European Union on Thursday.
MATT DUNHAM — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS People raise a glass and celebrate in Parliament Square in London as the bell known as Big Ben strikes the hour when Britain ends its transition period and formally leaves the European Union on Thursday.

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