Great Britain and the European Union have reached a historic trade agreement that will avoid tariffs and smooth the way to the UK transitioning out of the EU.
Negotiators were nearing a deadline of December 31 when the rules governing trade between Britain and the rest of Europe would expire. The UK left the EU last January but its trade was subject to EU rules until next Thursday.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “This deal means a new stability and new certainty in what sometimes has been a fractious and difficult relationship.”
Johnson also tried to assure nervous nations that Great Britain wasn’t going anywhere.
Johnson also had a message for the EU: “We will be your friend, your ally, your supporter, and indeed, never let it be forgotten, your No. 1 market. Because although we will have left the EU, this country will remain culturally, emotionally, historically, strategically, geologically attached to Europe.”
But the British leader couldn’t resist a dig at the EU, after the final days of negotiation got snagged on future fishing quotas in U.K. waters and detailed discussions of individual species: He wore a tie printed with tiny fish for the historic announcement and spoke of a future where Britons will “be able to catch and eat quite prodigious quantities of extra fish.”
Being an island nation, fishing is a small but important industry in Great Britain and the UK was fighting for fair quotas on fish in its own waters. There was such disagreement with France, especially, on the issue of scallops that the two nations have almost had a shooting war over it in recent years. Boats from EU member states land about eight times more fish in UK waters than British fishermen do in EU waters, but the UK is dependent on the European export market. That made both sides eager for a deal.
The alternative would have been a “No-Brexit” exit where Great Britain would have been forced into abiding by World Trade Organization regulations — a grim prospect considering the number of nations involved. The deal, if ratified by EU nations, the EU, and British Parliament, would avoid the potential chaos of rule changes that would have slowed trade to a crawl and almost certainly led to shortages.
A U.K. government spokesperson said: “This agreement allows the beginning of a new relationship between the U.K. and the EU. One that we have always wanted — a thriving trading and economic relationship between a sovereign U.K. and our European partners and friends.”
“For the British people the deal delivers the objectives of the 2016 referendum and the 2019 election, and it will bring significant benefits for both the U.K. and the EU,” the spokesperson added.
The new year will see a new arrangement in Europe. Other EU states are carefully watching what happens in the UK as some nations like Italy and others in Eastern Europe weigh their options for remaining members.