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Brexit trade deal gets EU green light

Dave CLARK
·3-min read
The deal offers the British duty-free and quota-free access to its market of 450 million consumers, and gives European fishermen access to UK waters for at least another five-and-a-half years

The European Union gave the green light on Monday to its post-Brexit trade deal with the UK, clearing the way for it to come into effect in the New Year.

The British parliament will have to ratify later this week the deal to cushion the economic shock of the divorce. Brussels will apply it on a provisional basis until European lawmakers consider the agreement in the coming months.

Customs and regulatory controls on cross-Channel commerce will still come into effect on January 1 after Britain leaves the EU single market.

But there will be no immediate return to a regime of tariffs and quotas that could have disrupted trade after Britain's decision to quit the club.

Sebastian Fischer, spokesman for the German presidency of the EU, said: "EU ambassadors have unanimously approved the provisional application of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement."

Under EU procedure, the decision by ambassadors from the 27 member states to endorse the plan will take effect at 3 pm (1400 GMT) on Tuesday.

But there is no expectation that any EU members will now slow the adoption of the trade deal, the fruit of a tortuous 10-month negotiation.

Germany holds the rotating EU presidency and Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said the coalition government has no objection to the text.

"Germany can accept the negotiated accord," she said. In Paris, President Emmanuel Macron's office announced that his government had also backed the deal.

"The accord will come into force on January 1. From the first day, France will be vigilant that it is put in place correctly," the French government statement said.

Separately, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke by telephone with the president of the European Council, Charles Michel.

"I welcomed the importance of the UK-EU Agreement as a new starting point for our relationship, between sovereign equals," Johnson tweeted.

The European Parliament will want to study the deal even after its provisional application and was expected to convene a session in the first quarter of next year to ratify it.

But on Monday, MEPs were discussing the possibility of pushing that date back further to give themselves more time to study the text and to watch how relations develop.

- 'Trust and support' -

The member states' provisional approval will last until the end of February, but EU parliamentary leaders asked on Monday for a few more weeks to arrange a vote in March or April.

But if London refuses this delay, they have agreed to hold a special plenary session on or around February 23.

Brussels' chief negotiator Michel Barnier met the president of the European Parliament David Sassoli and the MEPs coordinating EU-UK ties on Monday.

He described the exchanges as "fruitful" and thanked the MEPs "for their trust and support throughout this extraordinary negotiation."

British parliamentarians are to meet on Wednesday to debate the accord.

Although the 2016 Brexit referendum that set the divorce in motion proved to be extremely divisive, the vote is expected to go smoothly.

The MPs have not had long to study the 1,200-page text, but Johnson has a comfortable majority of Conservative MPs in the Commons and has hailed the accord as a victory

The minority Scottish National Party will oppose the deal -- as it opposed Brexit -- but bulk of MPs from the main Labour opposition will back it to avoid further disruption.

The deal offers the British duty-free and quota-free access to its market of 450 million consumers, and gives European fishermen access to UK waters for at least another five-and-a-half years.

But it provides for Europe to impose compensatory measures on British business if London backslides on standards for state aid, the environment, labour law and taxation.

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