THE European Union and Britain have finally reached a deal that will govern the essentials of their post-Brexit relationship. The deal, signed just days short of a Dec 31 deadline, comes four and a half years after Britain made the dramatic decision to leave the union. After months of negotiations and a very real fear of a ‘no-deal Brexit’, this development is being billed by the Conservative-led government as something of a Christmas miracle that has come at a time when post-Brexit concerns and coronavirus deaths have cast a shadow over the festive period.
According to early details, some key changes will take effect from Jan 1. The free movement of people between the UK and EU will come to an end. There will be red tape at borders, with new rules for which lines to queue in and more planning for trips to EU states. Importers and exporters in England, Scotland and Wales will require customs declarations in the same way as they do with countries outside the EU. For EU citizens in the UK, rights will remain the same until June 30, 2021, after which they will have to check if they can stay. While UK citizens living in the EU will have some protections under the withdrawal agreement, they will need to be aware of a country’s specific rules. The good news is that the deal means there will be no charges on British or EU goods — a relief for both markets since the EU is the UK’s closest and largest trading partner. There is also no quota on the number of things which can be traded.
Although the coming days will see the deal — with its terms reportedly contained in a 2,000-page document — analysed to the last detail, the fact that an accord was actually reached will come as relief to both sides. Fears of not reaching a deal were high in Britain, where an economy already battered by Covid-19 was bracing for further shocks. Without this deal, which now governs a tariff-free trade relationship, prices for the goods Britain buys from/sells to the EU would have soared. There was also a sense that the EU wanted to ‘punish’ Britain, which is the first member state leaving the union; this much was said by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently. At times, despite negotiations, the gaps seemed too big and there was a sense that talks would collapse.
With the uncertainty behind them, Mr Johnson and his government have hailed it as a development that resolves a “question that has bedevilled politics for decades”; all eyes are now on how the new ties will fare. But the current euphoria should certainly not downplay the need for scrutiny. Mr Johnson’s government now has to prove that Brexit, an issue that bitterly divided the nation, was well worth it.
Published in Dawn, December 26th, 2020