A young child plays inside of a giant Christmas ornament outside EU headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020. Talks continued Wednesday in the bid to put a trade deal between the European Union and the United Kingdom, before a Brexit transition period ends on New Year's Day, with the EU legislature insisting it will not have time to approve a deal. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Breakthrough: UK and EU reach post-Brexit trade agreement

BRUSSELS — Just a week before the deadline, Britain and the European Union struck a free-trade deal Thursday that should avert economic chaos on New Year’s and bring a measure of certainty for businesses after years of Brexit turmoil.

Once ratified by both sides, the agreement will ensure Britain and the 27-nation bloc can continue to trade in goods without tariffs or quotas after the U.K. breaks fully free of the EU on Jan. 1.

Relief was palpable all around that nine months of tense and often testy negotiations had finally produced a positive result.

The Christmas Eve breakthrough was doubly welcome amid a coronavirus pandemic that has left some 70,000 people in Britain dead and led the country’s neighbours to shut their borders to the U.K. over a new and seemingly more contagious variant of the virus spreading in England.

“We have taken back control of our laws and our destiny,” declared British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who posted a picture of himself on social media, beaming with thumbs up.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “It was a long and winding road, 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 in Brussels.

The EU member countries and the British and European parliaments still need to vote on the agreement, though action by the European body may not happen until after the Jan. 1 breakup. Britain’s Parliament is set to vote Dec. 30.

France, long seen as Britain’s toughest obstacle to a deal, said the uncanny steadfastness among the 27 nations with widely varying interests was a triumph in itself.

“European unity and firmness paid off,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement.

And German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that unity will now probably result in all the EU nations backing the deal: “I am very optimistic that we can present a good result here.”

It has been 4 1/2 years since Britons voted 52% to 48% to leave the EU and — in the words of the Brexiteers’ campaign slogan — “take back control” of the U.K.’s borders and laws.

It took more than three years of wrangling before Britain left the bloc’s political structures last January. Disentangling the two sides’ economies and reconciling Britain’s desire for independence with the EU’s aim of preserving its unity took months longer.

The devil will be in the detail of the 2,000-page agreement, but both sides claimed the deal protects their cherished goals. Britain said it gives the U.K. control over its money, borders, laws and fishing grounds and ensures the country is “no longer in the lunar pull of the EU.”

Von der Leyen said it protects the EU’s single market and contains safeguards to ensure Britain does not unfairly undercut the bloc’s standards.

If Britain were to quit the EU with no agreement governing trade, the two sides would reinstate tariffs on each other’s goods.

Johnson’s government acknowledged that a chaotic no-deal exit — or a “crash-out,” as the British call it — would probably cause gridlock at the country’s ports, temporary shortages of some goods and higher food prices. The turmoil could also cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.

To avoid that, negotiating sessions alternating between London and Brussels — and sometimes disrupted by the pandemic —- gradually whittled differences between the two sides down to three key issues: fair-competition rules, mechanisms for resolving future disputes, and fishing rights.

The EU has long feared that Britain would slash social, environmental and state aid rules after Brexit and gain a competitive advantage over the EU. Britain denies planning to institute weaker standards but said that having to follow EU regulations would undermine its sovereignty.

A compromise was eventually reached on the tricky “level playing field” issues. That left the economically minor but hugely symbolic issue of fishing rights as the final sticking point, with maritime EU nations seeking to retain access to U.K. waters where they have long fished.

Under the deal, the EU will give up a quarter of the quota it catches in U.K. waters, far less than the 80% Britain initially demanded. The system will be in place for 5 1/2 years, after which the quotas will be reassessed.

The U.K. has remained part of the EU’s single market and customs union during the 11-month post-Brexit transition period. As a result, many people so far have noticed little impact from Brexit.

On Jan. 1, the breakup will start feeling real. Even with a trade deal, goods and people will no longer be able to move freely between the U.K. and its continental neighbours without border restrictions.

EU citizens will no longer be able to live and work in Britain without visas — though that does not apply to the 4 million already doing so — and Britons can no longer automatically work or retire in EU nations. Exporters and importers face customs declarations, goods checks and other obstacles.

The U.K.-EU border is already reeling from new restrictions placed on travellers from Britain into France and other European countries because of the new version of the coronavirus sweeping through London and southern England.

Thousands of trucks were stuck in traffic jams near the port of Dover on Wednesday, waiting for their drivers to get virus tests so they could enter the Eurotunnel to France. British supermarkets said the backlog will take days to clear and there could be shortages of some fresh produce over the holiday season.

Despite the deal, there are still unanswered questions about huge areas, including security co-operation between the U.K. and the bloc — with the U.K. set to lose access to real-time information in some EU law-enforcement databases — and access to the EU market for Britain’s huge financial services sector.

Von der Leyen said she felt “quiet satisfaction,” but no joy, now that the torrid Brexit saga that has consumed Britain and the EU for years is finally almost over.

“I know this is a difficult day for some, and to our friends in the United Kingdom I want to say parting is such sweet sorrow,” she said.

Johnson, who staked his career and reputation on extracting the country from the EU, said Britain will always be a strong friend and partner to the bloc.

“Although we have left the EU, this country will remain, culturally, emotionally, historically, strategically, geologically attached to Europe,” he said.

 

A cleaner sweeps the pavement front of 10 Downing Street in London, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020. Negotiators from the European Union and Britain worked through the night and right into Christmas Eve to put the finishing touches on a trade deal that should avert a chaotic economic break between the two sides on New Year’s Day. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

European Union flags flutter in the breeze outside EU headquarters in Brussels, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020. European Union and British negotiators worked through the night and into Christmas Eve in the hopes of putting the finishing touches on a trade deal that should avert a chaotic economic break between the two sides on New Year's Day. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrives to address a media conference on Brexit negotiations at EU headquarters in Brussels, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, Pool)

Just Posted

Mayor Rick Bonnett. (Screenshot)
WATCH: Ponoka council calls on gov’t to support rural small businesses

Ponoka council is calling on the provincial government to increase funding to… Continue reading

Pumpjacks draw oil out of the ground near Olds, Alta., Thursday, July 16, 2020. A new report suggests the economic impact of the pandemic led to a massive increase in federal aid to Canada's oil patch. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Alberta economy ‘still reeling,’ says ATB Financial

Alberta’s economy is still feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and… Continue reading

Ella Stoner, five, is ready to cut off her hair and donate it to A Child’s Voice Foundation. (Photo by Lauren Stoner Photography)
Central Alberta girl to donate her ‘princess hair’ to A Child’s Voice Foundation

A five-year-old girl from Rimbey has never had a haircut before. Now,… Continue reading

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta adds 1,195 new COVID-19 cases Saturday

Red Deer has dropped to 760 active cases

The Minnesota Wild celebrate their overtime victory over the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of a first-round NHL hockey playoff series Sunday, May 16, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
Eriksson Ek’s OT goal lifts Wild past Vegas 1-0

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Joel Eriksson Ek’s goal at 3:20 of overtime… Continue reading

Toronto Blue Jays' Lourdes Gurriel Jr., celebrates after hitting a double against the Philadelphia Phillies during the third inning of a baseball game Sunday, May 16, 2021, in Dunedin, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
Girardi, Segura have confrontation as Phils lose to Jays

Blue Jays 10 Phillies 8 DUNEDIN, Fla. (AP) — The injury-depleted Philadelphia… Continue reading

New York Islanders' Kyle Palmieri (21) returns to the bench after scoring during the first period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Palmieri’s OT winner lifts Isles by Penguins 4-3 in Game 1

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The New York Islanders brought Kyle Palmieri home at… Continue reading

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing to examine an update from Federal officials on efforts to combat COVID-19, Tuesday, May 11, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via AP)
Fauci says pandemic exposed ‘undeniable effects of racism’

ATLANTA (AP) — The immunologist who leads the COVID-19 response in the… Continue reading

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, participates in a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Feds face growing calls for answers after general overseeing vaccine effort sidelined

OTTAWA — The federal Liberal government is facing growing calls for answers… Continue reading

Conservative MP Ron Liepert rises during Question Period on Parliament Hill, Friday, March 10, 2017 in Ottawa. Ron Liepert says these days, the phone calls and emails from people wanting to talk about his party's climate plan have slowed. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Alberta MP pitches Conservative carbon price with a 24-pack of Pilsner

OTTAWA — Ron Liepert says these days, the phone calls and emails… Continue reading

A sign marks Stairs Place in the Hydrostone district in the North end of Halifax on Thursday, May 13, 2021. The street was named for William Grant Stairs, a Canadian explorer from Halifax who helped lead some of the most controversial expeditions through the African continent. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Where the streets have explorers’ names, some Halifax residents call for change

HALIFAX — When builders created Halifax’s distinctive Hydrostone neighbourhood more than a… Continue reading

Riley Oldford, 16, suffers from cerebral palsy. He was the first youth in the Northwest Territories to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Here he receives the needle from nurse practitioner Janie Neudorf in Yellowknife on Thursday May 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Braden
People with disabilities even more alone during pandemic: cerebral palsy spokeswoman

YELLOWKNIFE — Riley Oldford is usually out playing sledge hockey or hanging… Continue reading

Most Read