Brexit

Post-Brexit trade agreement: EU and Britain prepare the final steps to seal the deal

British MPs in Westminster and MEPs in Brussels have to give their approval to a trade deal that will define the post-Brexit European landscape.
British MPs in Westminster and MEPs in Brussels have to give their approval to a trade deal that will define the post-Brexit European landscape. JUSTIN TALLIS AFP/File
3 min

Top European diplomats have been prised from their families to spend Christmas working on the administrative procedures for the post-Brexit trade deal for Britain and the European Union.

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"We asked them to be available over the Christmas period,” said a spokesperson for the EU negotiating teams. The ambassadors are expected to take several days weighing up the implications, the spokesperson added.

Two significant hurdles await the free trade agreement signed on 24 December by the British prime minister Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen, the EU chief.

British MPs and lawmakers in the EU’s 27 countries have to give the green light to the 2,000-page contract.

As part of that process, EU ambassadors met on Friday to start picking through the dossier.

Work

Once the ambassadors have finished several days of poring over the document, the European Council - which decides on the EU's overall direction and political priorities - will have to give the thumbs up.

With the treaty due to become law on 1 January 2021, the British parliament will make its decision on 30 December.

More than four years after Britons voted to leave the European Union, MPs are expected to sanction the final details of the divorce without the snarl-ups and faction fighting that bedevilled the Conservative government of Theresa May.

Johnson's Conservative administration not only has a working majority in the House of Commons but Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition Labour party, has also said he will support the trade treaty rather than contemplate a 'no deal departure from the EU after nearly 50 years of membership.

Delay

The European parliament has warned though that it will be impossible to ratify the treaty by the end of the year.

EU leaders will therefore agree the free trade deal at the European Council vote.

But it will effectively be a 'holding pattern' while they wait for the MEPs to give their formal verdict after they discuss it in the European parliament next month.

To prepare for the debates, David Sassoli, the president of the European Parliament, has called a meeting with the leaders of the different political groups on 28 December.

Regret

"The parliament regrets that the length of the negotiations and this last-minute agreement do not allow for an in-depth study of the text before the end of the year," he said in a statement, quoted by the website Politico.

“The parliament will continue its work in the relevant committees and in plenary before deciding whether to approve it at the beginning of the year,” he added.

Should MEPs reject a treaty so onerously negotiated against the clock, trade relations between Britain and the EU would be governed by the rules of the World Trade Organisation.

However, Sassoli has said the Johnson-von der Leyen treaty is likely to be approved.

“MEPs will act responsibly to minimise disruption to citizens and prevent the chaos of a 'no deal' scenario,” he added.

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