Britain clinched a Brexit trade deal with the European Union on Thursday, just seven days before it exits one of the world’s biggest trading blocs in its most significant global shift since the loss of empire.
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“Deal is done,” a Downing Street source said. “We have taken back control of our money, borders, laws, trade and our fishing waters.”
“The deal is fantastic news for families and businesses in every part of the UK. We have signed the first free trade agreement based on zero tariffs and zero quotas that has ever been achieved with the EU.”
The deal ensures the two sides can continue to trade in goods without tariffs or quotas. But despite the breakthrough, key aspects of the future relationship between the 27-nation bloc and its former member remain uncertain.
The British and European parliaments both must hold votes on the agreement, though the latter may not happen until after the UK leaves the EU’s economic embrace on January 1.
Months of tense and often testy negotiations gradually whittled differences between the two sides down to three key issues: fair-competition rules, mechanisms for resolving future disputes and fishing rights. The rights of EU boats to trawl in British waters remained the last obstacle before it was resolved.
However, key aspects of the future relationship between the 27-nation bloc and its former member remain unresolved.
Johnson had insisted the UK would “prosper mightily” even if no deal were reached and the UK had to trade with the EU on World Trade Organization terms. But his government has acknowledged that a chaotic exit was likely to bring gridlock at Britain’s ports, temporary shortages of some goods and price increases for staple foods.
The EU has long feared that Britain would undercut the bloc’s social, environmental and state aid rules after Brexit, becoming a low-regulation rival on the bloc’s doorstep. Britain denies planning to institute weaker standards but said that having to continue following EU regulations would undermine its sovereignty.
A compromise was eventually reached on the tricky “level playing field” issues. The economically minor but hugely symbolic issue of fish came to be the final sticking point, with maritime EU nations seeking to retain access to UK waters where they have long fished and Britain insisting it must exercise control as an “independent coastal state,”
Huge gaps over fishing were gradually closed over weeks of intense negotiations in Brussels, even as Johnson continued to insist that a no-deal exit was a likely and satisfactory outcome to the nine months of talks on the future relationship between the EU and its ex-member nation.
Britain’s opposition Labour Party said on Thursday it would respond in full to the announcement of a post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union, but that it had long argued a deal was in the national interest.
“Since the election, the Labour Party has urged the government and the EU to secure a trade deal because that is in the national interest,” a Labour spokesman said in a statement.
“We will be setting out our formal response to the deal in due course.”
Labour leader Keir Starmer is expected to hold a news conference later on Thursday.