Breakthrough: UK and EU reach post-Brexit trade agreement

BRUSSELS — Just a week before the deadline, Britain and the European Union struck a free-trade deal Thursday that should avert economic chaos on New Year’s and bring a measure of certainty for businesses after years of Brexit turmoil.
Once ratified by both sides, the agreement will ensure Britain and the 27-nation bloc can continue to trade in goods without tariffs or quotas after the U.K. breaks fully free of the EU on Jan. 1.
Relief was palpable on both sides that nine months of tense and often testy negotiations had finally produced a positive result.
The Christmas Eve breakthrough was double welcome amid a coronavirus pandemic that has left some 70,000 people in Britain dead and led the country’s neighbors to shut its borders to the U.K. over a new and seemingly more contagious variant of the virus spreading in England.
“We have taken back control of our laws and our destiny,” declared British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who posted a picture of himself on social media, beaming with thumbs up.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said “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,” she said in Brussels.
The British and European parliaments both must hold votes on the agreement, though action by the latter may not happen until after the Jan. 1 breakup. Britain’s Parliament is set to vote on the deal Wednesday.
It has been 4 1/2 years since Britons voted 52% to 48% to leave the EU and — in the words of the Brexiteers’ campaign slogan — “take back control” of the U.K.’s borders and laws.
The devil will be in the detail of the 2,000-page agreement, but both sides claimed the deal protects their cherished goals. Britain said it gives the U.K. control over its money, borders, laws and fishing waters and ensures the country is “no longer in the lunar pull of the EU.”
Von der Leyen said the agreement protects the EU’s single market and contains safeguards to ensure Britain does not unfairly undercut the bloc’s standards.
Von der Leyen said she felt “quiet satisfaction,” but no joy, now that the torrid Brexit saga that has consumed Britain and the EU for years is finally almost over.
“I know this is a difficult day for some, and to our friends in the United Kingdom I want to say parting is such sweet sorrow,” she said.
Johnson said Britain will always be a strong friend and partner to the EU.
“Although we have left the EU, this country will remain, culturally, emotionally, historically, strategically, geologically attached to Europe,” he said.

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