UK and EU reach post-Brexit trade agreement

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Britain and the European Union (EU) have struck a provisional free-trade agreement 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 UK’s final split from the EU, the UK government said the “deal is done.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are expected to make statements imminently.

The deal should ensure the two sides can 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 UK 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 UK would “prosper mightily” even if no deal were reached and the UK 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 percent to 48 percent to leave the EU and — in the words of the Brexiteers’ campaign slogan — “take back control” of the UK’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. CURRENTPH

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