The post-Brexit trade deal between Britain and the European Union (EU) has been approved by British lawmakers and signed by EU leaders, paving the way for an orderly Brexit when the transition period ends on Thursday.
The deal brings reassurance to both sides and the global market that a possible chaotic and disorderly economic break has been avoided; but observers have noted that difficulties remain in the implementation of the deal in the near and long term.
British lawmakers approved the post-Brexit trade deal as they were recalled on the morning of Wednesday to put the agreement into British law, one day before Britain stops following EU rule. They voted 521-73 to back the deal in the House of Commons, or the lower house of the parliament, after only five hours of debate, and the House of Lords also backed the deal late Wednesday evening.
Also on Wednesday, European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen signed the post-Brexit trade deal on behalf of the EU.
The signed documents were then transferred to Britain and signed by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The signing ceremony was held after the provisional application of the agreement as of Jan. 1, 2021 was approved by the EU member states on Tuesday. The trade deal will need to be scrutinized by the European Parliament early next year before it is formally ratified by the EU Council.
According to a press statement by the European Commission, the agreement covers not just trade in goods and services, but also a broad range of other areas, such as investment, competition, fisheries and social security coordination.
Both parties have committed to ensuring a robust level playing field by maintaining high levels of protection in areas such as environmental protection, the fight against climate change and carbon pricing, said the statement.”It is a fair and balanced agreement that fully protects the fundamental interests of the European Union and creates stability and predictability for citizens and companies,” Michel said in a press release.
In an interview with the BBC, Johnson said the deal would allow Britain to “go our own way but also have free trade” with the EU.”There will be changes. And we’ve been very clear with people that they have to get ready for Jan. 1, things will work differently,” he said.
As Britain and the EU part as “old friends” in the new year, experts and analysts have warned that there could still be difficult times ahead as uncertainty remains. Many large issues are left out of the current deal, warned Rajneesh Narula, the John H. Dunning Chair of International Business Regulation at the Henley Business School, University of Reading.
Notably, the trade deal did little for the service sector, which makes up 80 percent of the British economy, he said.”It means that everything to do with services, that is to say banking, finance and insurance, and telecoms. These are all issues that will be negotiated in the new saga,” Narula told Xinhua.
According to Narula, everything from the validity of degrees and certificates has yet to be discussed and could mirror what happened in the negotiations for the trade deal.Observers also warned that trade between the two sides could be disrupted by a huge amount of new paperwork and border checks.
Tony Danker, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said that with the deal coming so late, “it is vital that both sides take instant steps to keep trade moving and services flowing while firms adjust.””There’s going to be a certain amount of chaos,” said Narula.
“I think we will see queues of different types and as people suddenly realize, ‘Oh, wait a minute, what does that mean for me?’ And then so the next three to six months will be people going ‘Oh, I didn’t know that’.”
The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), a London-based think tank, warned last week that the deal leaves workers’ rights and environmental protection at risk of erosion.”This thin deal is better than no deal at all, but still creates major trade barriers with our closest neighbour, which will inhibit growth and slow the economic recovery,” said Marley Morris, an IPPR director focusing on trade and EU relations.
The deal, which came after nine months of arduous negotiations between Britain and the EU, is the biggest bilateral trade deal signed by either side, covering trade worth around 668 billion pounds (about 905.4 billion U.S. dollars).
The EU is Britain’s largest trading partner while Britain is the EU’s third largest trading partner in goods, following the United States and China.