The UK Parliament approves the Brexit commerce deal as either side look to the long run
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: EU Commission President von der Leyen and British PM Johnson meet in Brussels
By William James and Gabriela Baczynska
LONDON / BRUSSELS (Reuters) – British lawmakers on Wednesday approved Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union as both sides wanted to start a new chapter in relations just days before the divorce.
The UK and the European Union signed the agreement on Wednesday and the UK Parliament will complete its implementation. It ends over four years of negotiations and secures nearly $ 1 trillion in annual trade.
Both sides said it was an opportunity to start a new chapter in a relationship that was forged with the rebuilding of Europe after World War II, but in which Britain was often reluctant to participate in ever closer political and economic integration.
Johnson said in a specially convened session of Parliament that he hoped to work “hand in hand” with the EU, if their interests were reconciled, and use Britain’s newfound sovereignty to reshape the UK economy.
“Brexit is not an end, but a beginning,” said Johnson. “The responsibility now rests with all of us to make the best possible use of the strength we have regained, the tools that we have picked up again.”
The lower house of parliament voted 521 to 73 for the agreement. The upper house of parliament is now debating the law and it should become law around midnight.
The deal has been criticized on several fronts since it was agreed on December 24th. Opposition Labor Party says it is too thin and does not protect the trade in services, fishermen are raging that Johnson has sold out their interests, and Northern Ireland’s status remains subject to much uncertainty.
Nonetheless, Johnson won the support of his party’s tough Brexiters – a break with the EU that was far more radical than many had thought when Britain shocked the world in 2016 by voting to leave.
Long-time Eurosceptic lawmaker Bill Cash said Johnson saved British democracy from “submission” to Brussels four decades ago: “Like Alexander the Great, Boris cut the Gordian knot.”
Johnson said he hoped to end the “old, tired, angry question of Britain’s political relationship with Europe” and instead “become the EU’s best friend and ally”.
Against the backdrop of the EU flags, senior EU officials signed the contracts signed on December 24th to ensure the UK’s duty-free and quota-free access to the bloc’s 450 million consumers.
“It is of the utmost importance for the European Union and the United Kingdom to look ahead to open a new chapter in their relationship,” the EU said in a statement.
A British Royal Air Force brought the documents bearing the EU gold stars on a blue leather folder to Johnson, who signed them with British flags at a desk against his own background.
“Did I read it? The answer is yes,” Johnson quipped, holding up a copy of the full 2,000-page document.
Britain officially left the EU almost a year ago, and the new partnership agreement will begin regulating trade, transport, energy links and fisheries relations from January 1st.
After both sides have signed, the agreement will remain in force until the end of February, pending final approval by the European Parliament to make it permanent.