UK, EU strike trade agreement, avoiding potentially disastrous “hard” Brexit

With a critical deadline looming, the European Union and the United Kingdom have struck a trade deal that will allow for a smoother transition for the U.K. to complete its exit from the bloc.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the deal on Christmas Eve, after several weeks of negotiation and before a final deadline of Sunday, 27 December, which was the latest a deal could have had time to receive needed approval from the U.K. Parliament and the European Parliament.

Details of the agreement have not been shared, but van der Leyen said in a press conference it includes a five-and-a-half year transition period for fishing quotas to be shifted to greater U.K. control, according to the BBC.

Fishing quotas appeared to be a main sticking point in negotiations, with the two sides jockeying for control and access to waters previously shared between fishermen of multiple E.U. countries. French fishermen, in particular, stood to lose the most if the U.K. insisted on reclaiming sole rights to fish its own territorial waters. British fishing groups were among the loudest pro-Brexit advocates, but many rely on continental markets, where they fetch better prices.

“For the time since 1973, we will be an independent coastal nation with control of our own waters,” Johnson said in a press conference.

Britain had pushed for annual negotiations over fishing quotas similar to those that occur between the European Union and Norway. But with more than 100 species, the European Union had argued that would be impractical, according to The New York Times.

The full text of the free trade agreement will be published in the next few days, and Johnson said he hoped the U.K. Parliament will be recalled and vote to approve it by 30 December, the BBC reported.

It is too late in the year for the European Parliament to vote on the deal before Brexit goes into effect on 1 January, 2021. But the governing body is likely to vote to approve it in early January, based on welcoming signals to the agreement given by Germany and France, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Negotiators “went line by line through each major species of fish to determine the maximum amount British and E.U. boats could catch for roughly five years,” E.U. and U.K. officials told the WSJ.

“We have finally found an agreement,” van der Leyen said at a press conference. “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. The European Union and the United Kingdom will stand shoulder to deliver on our common goals.”

Donna Fordyce, chief executive of Seafood Scotland, issued a mixed reaction to the deal.

“Having a deal on the table at long last comes as a welcome relief to the Scottish seafood sector, which relies heavily on exports.  In particular, tariff-free trade is a huge benefit,” she said. “However, this is a two-sided deal. Over the last few days we’ve seen the utter chaos that disruption at the border causes. With Brexit will come new, untested, and extremely complex processes that the seafood sector will have to comply with in just a week’s time, at huge cost which they can ill afford just now. This bureaucratic blockade will result in some lorries not making it to Europe in time to ensure their highly perishable cargo is saleable. We expect it to be a good few months until everything beds in and in the meantime, seafood businesses will try their best to navigate the changes, but some will not survive.”

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon continued to voice strong opposition to any deal that takes the U.K. out of the E.U.

"Brexit is happening against Scotland's will – and there is no deal that will ever make up for what Brexit takes away from us,” she said. "It's time to chart our own future as an independent, European nation."

Photo courtesy of Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock


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