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Brexit trade deal published as UK calls for end to 'ugly' divisions

Brexit trade deal published as UK calls for end to 'ugly' divisions

European Union ambassadors gathered to pore over the Brexit deal text on Christmas Day. (Photo: AFP/Olivier Hoslet)

LONDON: Britain on Saturday (Dec 26) published the text of its narrow trade agreement with the European Union just five days before it exits one of the world's biggest trading blocs in its most significant global shift since the loss of empire.

The text includes a 1,246-page trade document, as well as agreements on nuclear energy, exchanging classified information, civil nuclear energy and a series of joint declarations.

The Draft EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement means that from 11pm GMT on Dec 31 (7am on Jan 1, Singapore time), when Britain finally leaves the EU's single market and customs union, there will be no tariffs or quotas on the movement of goods originating in either place between the United Kingdom and the EU.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson cast the deal as the final implementation of the will of the British people who voted for Brexit in a 2016 referendum by 52 per cent to 48 per cent, while Europe's leaders said it was time to leave Brexit behind.

Michael Gove, a senior British minister who campaigned alongside Johnson to leave the EU, said the deal would allow Britain to put some of the divisions of the nearly five-year Brexit crisis behind it.

"Friendships have been strained, families were divided and our politics has been rancorous and, at times, ugly," Gove wrote in the Times. 

"We can develop a new pattern of friendly cooperation with the EU, a special relationship if you will, between sovereign equals."

READ: Commentary: EU accomplishes its mission of limiting damage from Brexit

READ: French fishermen voice relief at Brexit deal

The Brexit referendum exposed a United Kingdom divided about much more than the EU, and has fuelled soul-searching about everything from secession and immigration to capitalism, empire and modern Britishness.

Such musings amid the political crisis over Brexit have left allies puzzled by a country, the world's sixth-largest economy and a pillar of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), that was for decades touted as a confident pillar of Western economic and political stability.

BREXIT DEAL

The two sides finally clinched a trade deal on Christmas Eve that explicitly recognises that trade and investment require conditions for "a level playing field for open and fair competition".

If, though, there are "significant divergences" on rules between the two sides, then they can "rebalance" the agreement.

Each side will have an independent subsidy control adjudicator, though it was not immediately clear which body would do this in Britain, which had insisted on being free of any jurisdiction by the European Court of Justice.

On services, which comprise up to 80 per cent of Britain's economy, the two sides simply commit "to establish a favourable climate for the development of trade and investment between them".

On fishing rights, Johnson agreed to a five-and-a-half-year period to phase in new rules on what EU boats can catch in British waters, after which there will be annual consultations on the EU catch.

Britain will no longer take part in security sharing organisations and databases such as Europol, Eurojust and SIS-II, though there will be some cooperation for the exchange of passenger information and DNA, fingerprints and vehicle registration data.

The text includes many detailed annexes including on rules of origin, fish, the wine trade, medicines, chemicals and security data cooperation.

EU states are now working to implement the deal by Jan 1 through a fast-track procedure known as "provisional application".

However, the European Commission said in publishing the treaty that the fast-track approach would hold only until the end of February as the European Parliament's consent - expected in the first weeks of 2021 - is still needed to permanently apply it.

Source: Reuters/kg

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