European Parliament approves Brexit trade deal
The European Parliament voted on April 27 to ratify the EU’s post-Brexit trade deal with Britain, but not without issuing bitter final warnings that trouble lies ahead in cross-Channel ties.
The official result of vote was not to be published until April 28 morning, but the decision was not in doubt.
"Today the European Parliament voted on the most far reaching agreement the EU has ever reached with a third country," the president of the assembly, David Sassoli, said.
"This can form the foundation on which we build a new forward-looking EU-U.K. relationship," he said, warning that MEPs would monitor the implementation of the deal and "not accept any backsliding from the U.K. government."
"You cannot have the advantages of EU membership while being on the outside. However, this agreement goes a long way to mitigate its worst consequences."
The vote ratifies the bare bones trade deal that was sealed on Christmas Eve after nine months of bad-tempered negotiations.
This will provide the framework for Britain’s new relationship with the 27-member union, five years after British voters shocked the world by voting to end its 47-year membership.
But the EU parliament vote comes amid multiple feuds over the U.K.’s implementation of Brexit agreements and angry finger-pointing about the supply of the Covid-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca.
"We know it will not always be easy and there is a lot of vigilance, diligence and hard work ahead of us," EU chief Ursula von der Leyen told a session of parliament ahead of the vote.
"But while today’s vote is obviously an end, it is also the beginning of a new chapter," she said.
Britain left the EU on January 30 2020, but its new life with Europe only really began after a transition period ended on December 31, when London was no longer bound by the bloc’s laws and rules.
Officially called a trade and cooperation agreement (TCA), the deal creates a new relationship that provides for zero tariffs and zero quotas on goods traded between the EU and U.K.
But it is less ambitious than many Europeans had hoped for, with nothing on foreign policy and defense nor any commitment to close alignment on environment, health and other regulations.
More harmonized rules would have removed the requirement for some customs checks and paperwork on goods moving between the EU and U.K., which has made business more burdensome and stirred unrest in Northern Ireland.
Cross-Channel trade volumes have plummeted, with EU imports from the U.K. down by nearly 50 percent and exports into Britain down 20 percent in the first two months of the deal’s application.
The deal also makes no provision for financial services, threatening the City of London’s preeminence as the European hub for capital markets, banking and investment.
MEPs had demanded extra time to vet the pact, which also includes a painfully won deal on fishing that saw EU boat crews lose much of their access to bountiful U.K. waters.
The European Parliament further delayed its vote in part to protest unilateral delays by London in implementing customs checks in Northern Ireland, one of the most contentious issues in the divorce.
Brussels has launched legal action against London over the Irish problem, while a row over the supply of U.K.-based AstraZeneca’s coronavirus jab has also embittered cross-Channel relations.
But, despite the acrimony, the European Commission, which handles ties with the U.K. for the Europeans, urged MEPs to approve the pact, arguing that it will better help keep Britain in line.
The U.K., meanwhile, had made it clear that it would not approve any further delays, despite the risk of the whole deal being annulled if the MEPs did not vote by April 30.
"The U.K. government should not mistakenly take this for a blank cheque, or a vote of blind confidence in its intention to implement the agreements between us in good faith," warned Luxembourg MEP Christian Hansen.
The deal, he insisted, was "an insurance policy against further unilateral deviations from what was jointly agreed."
The vote took place on April 27 evening in Brussels after several hours of plenary debate.
"We have more in common than what divides us," said Michel Barnier, who was speaking for the last time in his capacity as the EU’s former chief negotiator on Brexit.
The phrase was borrowed from the pro-European British MP Jo Cox, who was murdered by a far-right extremist during the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign.