Post-Brexit trade

EU politicians give initial backing to trade and cooperation deal with Britain

Political and sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland have risen over trade deals since Britain withdrew from the European Union.
Political and sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland have risen over trade deals since Britain withdrew from the European Union. © Peter Morrison/AP

European Union politicians on Thursday gave the first of the two green lights needed to seal a trade and cooperation deal with former member Britain.

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The pact agreed during clutch negotiations last Christmas appeared in jeopardy in March after the British government decided to unilaterally extend a grace period until October on checks for goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in Brussels said the move flouted the terms of Britain’s withdrawal agreement from the bloc on 31 January 2020.

Meeting jointly on Thursday, the EU's foreign affairs and trade committees backed the trade and cooperation agreement by 108 votes to one. There were four abstentions, the European parliament said in a statement.

Approval

A second green light will be required from a full session of the European parliament.

It will decide between 26 and 29 April whether to ratify the deal which has taken on greater resonance following waves of clashes between protesters and police in Northern Ireland.

MEPs say they are concerned about a protocol included in the Brexit deal designed to prevent the emergence of a "hard border" between Northern Ireland, which remains part of Britain, and its EU neighbour, the Republic of Ireland.

"The impact of Brexit has definitely real life consequences and I think the flare-up of violence in Northern Ireland has made this abundantly clear," said Christian Hansen, an MEP from Luxembourg who voted for ratification.

"While the protocol of Northern Ireland is certainly part of the complex mix of reasons for the flare-up of violence, it is up to the UK government to own up to the agreement it has co-signed," he added.

Pact

The EU-UK trade pact has been provisionally applied since 1 January 2021. The British parliament has ratified the deal and European lawmakers were given until 30 April 2021 to have their say.

MEPs insist they want to see Britain move on implementing the Northern Ireland protocol.

If they remain unimpressed with Boris Johnson’s government over the issue and subsequently fail to give their formal approval to the trade deal, it would become invalid.

Britain and the EU would then have to deal with each other on World Trade Organization terms with tariffs and quotas.

"Plunging our companies into renewed uncertainty would be irresponsible and definitely in nobody's interest," Hansen added. 

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