Britain clinched a narrow Brexit trade deal with the European Union (EU) on Thursday (December 24). The trade deal was finalised just seven days before the UK exits one of the world’s biggest trading blocs.
It is one of the most significant global shifts for the country since the British empire came to an end. The deal could only be agreed more than four years after the UK voted narrowly to leave the trade bloc.
In a big relief for many, the deal means it has averted a chaotic finale to the divorce that has shaken the 70-year project to forge European unity after World War Two.
The new trade deal will preserve Britain’s zero-tariff and zero-quota access to the EU’s single market of 450 million consumers, but will not prevent economic pain and disruption for the United Kingdom or for EU member states.
Many aspects of Britain’s future relationship with the EU remain to be hammered out, which will possibly be done over the next few years.
“It was a long and winding road,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters. “But we have got a good deal to show for it. It is fair, it is a balanced deal, and it is the right and responsible thing to do for both sides,” she said.
“We have taken back control of our destiny,” UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters.
“People said it was impossible, but we have taken back control,” he said.
“We will be able to decide how and where to stimulate new jobs,” Johnson added.
The UK formally left the EU on January 31 but has since been in a transition period under which rules on trade, travel, and business remained unchanged until the end of this year.
The deal will also support the peace in Northern Ireland, which is a priority for the United States President-elect Joe Biden, who had warned Johnson that he must uphold the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Ireland, which is a member of the EU, said the deal protected its interests as well as could possibly have been hoped.
The trade pact will not cover services, which make up 80 per cent of the British economy, including a banking industry that positions London as a major financial capital. Access to the EU market for UK-based banks, insurers, and asset managers will become patchy at best.
A deal had seemed imminent for almost a day until haggling over just how much fish EU boats should be able to catch in British waters delayed the announcement.
When the UK shocked the world by voting to leave the EU, many in Europe hoped that it could stay closely aligned. The UK though decided to take a different route.
Von der Leyen, quoting Shakespeare, said that “parting is such sweet sorrow”.