EU lawmakers sign off Brexit trade deal as last major approval step


EU and British leaders on Wednesday welcomed the European Parliament’s vote in favour of ratifying the post-Brexit trade deal between the European Union and Britain, the last major hurdle that had to be cleared for its full implementation.

“[The] vote brings certainty and allows us to focus on the future. There will be much for us and the EU to work on together,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a written statement, the dpa news agency reported.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the agreement “marks the foundation of a strong and close partnership with the United Kingdom” but stressed that “faithful implementation is essential”.

European Council President Charles Michel heralded the start of a “new era”.

“The EU will continue to work constructively with the UK as an important friend and partner,” he wrote on Twitter.

Since London’s departure from the EU single market at the end of 2020, relations between Britain and the EU have further been strained by disagreements on the application of Brexit agreements and on Covid-19 vaccine supplies.

The EU accuses the British side of reneging on its agreements on special trade rules for Northern Ireland by unilaterally extending a grace period for their full application.

The European Commission has started legal action, and the two sides are in talks to resolve the dispute.

France has also been pushing for the full application of fisheries’ agreements with Britain.

Despite the concerns, an overwhelming majority of the EU legislature backed ratification. Out of the 697 EU lawmakers who cast their vote on Tuesday evening, 660 were in favour, five were against and 32 abstained, the legislature’s President David Sassoli announced.

The more than 1,000-page treaty covers not just commercial relations, but also competition rules, fishing arrangements, and the future terms for cooperation on policing and justice, transport and energy.

It is now expected to take force on May 1, after getting a final formal nod from the member states, which already gave their consent.

Major areas are not fully covered by the trade deal, including the services sector, a large part of the British economy.

Lobby group BusinessEurope said the ratification ends uncertainty for many companies on both sides.

“The UK is the third biggest trading partner of the EU, which makes this deal one of the most important trade agreements the EU has ever finalized,” the group’s President Pierre Gattaz said in a statement.

The trade deal – struck late December – has been provisionally applied since the beginning of 2021 to allow EU lawmakers time to scrutinize and ratify the deal. This grace period runs out on April 30, as per an agreement between the two sides.

The British parliament gave its green light back in December.

Its main goal is to avoid customs duties and keep trade flowing as freely as possible. However, checks and formalities are still necessary. Among other things, controls are carried out to see whether goods are really mainly manufactured in Britain and whether food products meet required standards.

In a debate ahead of the vote on Tuesday, most EU parliamentarians said they would back the deal with a heavy heart, and hoped for more constructive cooperation in the future.

A resolution signed off by the lawmakers described Britain’s decision to leave the EU as a “historic mistake.”

EU lawmakers had previously threatened to further delay ratification because of the ongoing dispute with London over the deal’s implementation.

Four-and-a-half years after a British referendum on membership of the EU, Britain officially left the bloc on January 31, 2020.

But it remained in a transitional phase for the following 11 months meaning that little changed in practice until the start of 2021.

Never before had an EU member state filed for divorce.