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European Parliament approves post-Brexit trade deal with UK

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Head of the Task Force for Relations with the UK, Michel Barnier attends the debate on EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement during the second day of a plenary session at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium April 27, 2021. (Reuters photo)

The European Parliament has voted to ratify the EU trade deal with the United Kingdom, but at the same time issued bitter final warnings that trouble lies ahead in cross-Channel ties.

The 705-member Brussels chamber overwhelmingly backed the bare bones trade deal sealed last Christmas Eve following nine months of bad tempered negotiation.

EU lawmakers supported the trade and cooperation agreement by 660 votes to five, with 32 abstentions, the parliament announced on Wednesday. 

The vote took place a day earlier, however, COVID working restrictions meant the result was not immediately known.

Although the move turned the page on a difficult Brexit chapter, there is still little hope of smoothing relations with London.

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

"This can form the foundation on which we build a new forward-looking EU-UK relationship," he said, but warned MEPs would monitor the implementation of the deal and "not accept any backsliding from the UK government".

"You cannot have the advantages of EU membership while being on the outside. However, this agreement goes a long way to mitigate its worst consequences."

The zero-tariffs, zero-quotas arrangement has provisionally been in force since the end of the transition period on January 1st, however, MEPs demanded extra time to vet the pact.

The pact also includes a deal on fishing which was especially difficult to clinch given the fact that EU fishing crews have lost much of their access to bountiful UK waters.

The EU further delayed its vote in part to protest unilateral delays by the UK in implementing customs checks in Northern Ireland, one of the most controversial issues in the divorce.

The European Commission, which handles relations with the UK for the Europeans, has asked MEPs to greenlight the pact, asserting it will better help keep Britain in check.

The vote on Tuesday will also provide the framework for London’s new relationship with the bloc, five years after British people voted to end their country’s 47-year membership.

However, it comes amid multiple feuds over Britain’s implementation of Brexit agreements and a major row over the supply of UK-based AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine.

"We know it will not always be easy and there is a lot of vigilance, diligence and hard work ahead of us," EU chief Ursula von der Leyen told a session of parliament ahead of the vote.

"But while today's vote is obviously an end, it is also the beginning of a new chapter," she said.

In a final debate in the EU parliament on Tuesday, she also assured MEPs that the agreement had "real teeth," warning any deviation by the UK from the pact would have consequences.

"And 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 warned.

Meanwhile, the UK also welcomed the vote, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling it "the final step in a long journey".

Britain left the bloc on January 30 2020, but its new life with Europe only really started following the transition period on December 31, when the UK was no longer bound by the EU’s laws and rules.

The immediate consequence was an end to the free movement of more than 500 million people between Britain and the EU states.

Customs border checks returned for the first time in decades, and despite the free-trade deal, queues and disruption from additional paperwork were expected.


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