The 27 member states of the European Union gave the green light Monday to the entry into force of the post-Brexit trade agreement between London and Brussels, on the first of next January.
The British Parliament will have to ratify the agreement later this week, but Brussels will implement it temporarily, easing the economic shock caused by the two parties’ divorce.
Customs and regulatory controls on cross-channel trade will remain in effect on January 1, after Britain’s exit from the European Union single market.
But there will be no immediate return to the tariffs and quotas system that could have disrupted trade after Britain’s decision to withdraw from the bloc.
“The ambassadors unanimously agreed to the provisional implementation of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom, starting January 1, 2021,” Sebatsian Fischer, spokesman for the German presidency, wrote on Twitter.
In turn, Ulrike Demir, a spokeswoman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, said during a press conference, “Germany can accept this agreement,” referring to a “positive evaluation” of the deal by Berlin.
The European Parliament wants to study the deal even after its temporary implementation, and it was expected to hold a session in the first half of next year to ratify it. On Monday, however, members of the European Parliament questioned whether this temporary implementation could be extended beyond the end of February, in order to have more time to review the nearly 1,200-page document, according to what a parliamentary source said after the heads of political blocs met in Parliament.
The transition period that began when the United Kingdom left the European Union in January 2020 ends on December 31 with Britain’s exit from the single market.
Trust and support
The agreement provides for the temporary implementation of its provisions until February 28, unless the parties agree on another deadline. But the leaders of the European Union Parliament asked Monday for a few more weeks to arrange the vote in March or April.
But if London rejects the delay, it will hold a hearing on or around 23 February.
Michel Barnier, the European negotiator who spoke during the meeting, as well as the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said on Twitter, “The dialogue is continuing with the European Parliament: a fruitful exchange this morning with the conference of heads of blocs.”
Barnier thanked the European MPs for their “trust and support during these exceptional negotiations.”
In the United Kingdom, British MPs were invited on Wednesday 30 December to discuss the deal. Despite the split the Brexit referendum in 2016 led to the start of the divorce, voting is expected to go smoothly.
Members of Parliament had little time to study the 1,200-page text, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson has a comfortable majority of Conservative MPs in the House of Commons, hailing the deal as a victory.
The minority party, the Scottish National Party, which is mainly opposed to Brexit, will oppose the deal, but the main labor opposition will support it to avoid further disruption.
The agreement will provide Britain with duty-free and quota-free access to the European market of 450 million consumers, and give European fishermen access to UK waters for at least another 5 and a half years.
But it gives Europe the power to impose compensatory measures on British businesses if London breaks down on standards for state aid, environment, labor law and taxes.
On December 24, London and Brussels reached a free trade agreement after Brexit at the end of difficult negotiations.