December 24 (Al Jazeera) – The United Kingdom and European Union have agreed on a post-Brexit trade deal after months of torturous negotiations, averting the prospect of a chaotic and acrimonious divorce at the end of this year.
The announcement on Thursday came just one week before the UK exits the EU’s single market and customs union on December 31.
“The deal is done,” UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted, as he posted a photo of himself with both thumbs raised in celebration.
Delivering a televised address, Johnson hailed striking what he called “the biggest trade deal yet”, adding that Britain had taken back control of its laws, borders, and fishing waters.
“We have completed the biggest trade deal yet, worth 660 billion pounds a year, a comprehensive Canada-style free trade deal between the UK and the EU,” he said.
His comments came after a Downing Street source said the agreement was “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 source said.
“We have delivered this great deal for the entire United Kingdom in record time, and under extremely challenging conditions, which protects the integrity of our internal market and Northern Ireland’s place within it.”
EU and British negotiators were up all night working on the deal, reportedly fuelled by takeaway pizzas, as they hashed out final details at the Berlaymont in Brussels, the headquarters of the European Commission.
Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, meanwhile, spoke several times by phone.
“Parting is such sweet sorrow,” von der Leyen said in Brussels shortly after the deal was announced. “It is time to leave Brexit behind. Our future is made in Europe.
“We have finally found an agreement. 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.”
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, speaking alongside von der Leyen, said: “Today is a day of relief, but tinged by some sadness as we compare what came before with what lies ahead.
“The clock is no longer ticking, after four years of collective effort and EU unity to preserve peace and stability on the island of Ireland, to protect the citizens and the single market, and to build a new partnership with the UK.”
The deal comes more than four years after a slim majority of Britons voted to quit the bloc in a June 2016 referendum on EU membership
The agreement document is said to be about 2,000 pages long. In essence, it is a narrow free trade pact surrounded with other agreements on a range of issues including energy, transport and police and security cooperation.
Both sides now have just days to get the pact ratified before January 1.
The UK Parliament, in which Johnson’s governing Conservative Party has a strong majority, is expected to sign off on the deal before December 31, when the Brexit transition period ends.
But things are more complicated on the EU side, with the leaders of its 27 member states required to approve of any agreement before it is sent to the European Parliament for its consent – a challenge made more difficult by the Christmas holiday period and amid a worsening coronavirus crisis.
EU law does, however, include a provision for agreements to be provisionally approved by its 27 member states, without its parliament’s consent.
They may sign off on such a move to allow the deal to come into effect as scheduled before the European Parliament holds a ratification vote early next year.
News of a deal has brought a sense of relief for many.
Had the UK and the EU failed to compromise, a no-deal Brexit scenario would have forced them to default to trading under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules from January 1.
WTO rules would have brought financial tariffs, quotas and other regulatory barriers to trade into play.