EU overwhelmingly ratifies post-Brexit trade deal with UK

European Parliament backs agreement by 660 votes to five

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrives at the debate on EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement during the second day of a plenary session at the European Parliament in Brussels, on April 27, 2021. / AFP / POOL / OLIVIER HOSLET
Powered by automated translation

The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to ratify the EU's post-Brexit trade deal with Britain, ending five years of political wrangling.

But officials warned the UK that it will face legal consequences should it fail to stick to its commitments.

The vote approves the bare bones of the trade deal sealed on Christmas Eve last year after nine months of bad-tempered negotiations, an agreement that has been in force provisionally since January 1.

The accord provides the framework for Britain's new relationship with the 27-member union, five years after UK voters voted to end its 47-year membership.

In the final tally, 660 members of the European Parliament voted in favour of the trade deal, with five against and 32 abstentions.

"Today the European Parliament voted on the most far-reaching agreement the EU has ever reached with a third country," assembly president David Sassoli said.

"This can form the foundation on which we build a new forward-looking EU-UK relationship.”

He said that the EU would be watching Britain’s actions closely and officials will "not accept any backsliding from the UK government”.

"You cannot have the advantages of EU membership while being on the outside,” he said.

The vote came after numerous feuds over the UK's implementation of Brexit agreements and disputes about the supply of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by British-Swedish company AstraZeneca.

In a final debate in the bloc’s parliament, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen assured MEPs that the agreement had "real teeth" and that any deviation by London from the pact would have consequences.

"Let me be very clear: we do not want to have to use these tools, but we will not hesitate to use them if necessary,” she said.

Britain's Brexit Minister David Frost said he welcomed the vote to approve the deal he helped to negotiate during months of fraught talks with EU counterpart Michel Barnier.

"Hope we can now begin a new chapter together as Europeans, characterised by friendly co-operation between sovereign equals," he said on Twitter.

The vote ends five years of a Brexit saga in which Britain and Europe settled on a divorce deal that divided the UK and jeopardised the peace agreement on the island of Ireland.

A recent wave of rioting in Northern Ireland was blamed on the consequences of Brexit arrangements and talks are under way in Brussels and London to find long-term solutions.

Britain left the EU on January 30, 2020, but the country’s new life outside the bloc only really began after a transition period ended on December 31 of that year, when London was no longer bound by European law.

The deal creates a new relationship that provides for zero tariffs and zero quotas on trading between the EU and UK.

But it is less ambitious than many Europeans had hoped for, with nothing on foreign policy and defence nor any commitment to close alignment on environment and health.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who backed Brexit, said that the UK must defend its newly found sovereignty.
Cross-Channel trade volumes plummeted since Brexit, with EU imports from the UK halved in the first two months of the deal's application.