After months of diplomatic wrangling – notably over fishing and state aid – the UK and EU finally struck a deal on their post-Brexit trade relationship on Thursday, averting a costly no-deal departure on December 31.
“I’m very pleased to tell you this afternoon that we have completed our biggest trade deal yet,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at a televised news conference, championing the agreement that he said would be worth 660 billion pounds a year (about $890 billion).
The deal “achieves something that the people of this country instinctively knew was doable but which they were told was impossible,” he said. “We’ve taken back control of our laws and our destiny.”
Still, Johnson added: “Although we have left the European Union, this country will remain culturally, emotionally, historically, strategically, geographically attached to Europe.”
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, the E.U.’s executive branch, said at a separate news conference: “It was a long and winding road but we have got a good deal to show for it.”
She said rather than joy she merely felt “satisfaction and relief,” telling the British that “parting is such sweet sorrow” and urging the rest of Europe, “it is time to leave Brexit behind.”
Many experts welcomed the deal as a compromise and a good outcome for both sides — particularly given the alternative. It came just days before a deadline of Dec. 31 — after which the U.K. would have left E.U. rules without an agreement at all.
This “no-deal Brexit” is widely regarded as a nightmare scenario that would seriously hurt economies and cause logistical chaos on both sides.
Johnson’s deal will not avoid friction. It is what experts call a “hard Brexit” free trade agreement. It focuses largely on quotas and tariffs but will likely not avoid regulatory checks on goods at the border, something that experts have warned could cause disruption at ports, meaning price rises and even shortages.
European Parliament must analyze the deal before deciding whether to approve it sometime in the New Year, European Parliament President David Sassoli said on Twitter. “The European Parliament will now analyze the agreement in detail before deciding whether to give consent in the new year,” Sassoli wrote.” We will act responsibly in order to minimize disruption to citizens and prevent the chaos of a no-deal scenario.”
The U.K. voted to leave the E.U. in 2016 and after years of tortuous politicking finally exited on Jan. 31 this year. Until Dec. 31 it is in a “transition period” with the remaining 27 E.U. countries, keeping the same rules while trying to negotiate a deal.
Negotiators have been shuttling between London and Brussels for months. For most of that time it seemed as though they would be unable to break the deadlock, which centered around how to stop Britain from gaining an unfair advantage on its newly estranged neighbors, and fishing rights — an economically tiny but nonetheless symbolic sector of the British economy.