On December 24th 2020, the United Kingdom and European Union struck a historic trade agreement.
Four and a half years after the Brexit referendum in 2016, the UK government announced: “we have taken back control of our money, borders, laws, trade, and our fishing waters”, while EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier said: “Today is a day of relief, but tinged with some sadness”. The agreement was passed by MPs on December 30th, 521-73, but what does the deal actually contain?
Firstly, there will be no tariffs on traded goods between the UK and the EU from January 1st. However, some new checks, such as safety and customs declarations, will be introduced at borders. This means any increase in the price of certain goods, a widespread fear in the run-up to the agreement, has been mostly avoided.
However, new travel regulations will come into force. UK nationals who wish to stay in the EU for longer than 90 days in any 180-day period will now require a visa. European Health Insurance (EHIC) cards will remain valid until expiration. The British government says once the cards have expired the EHIC will be replaced with a new UK Global Health Insurance Card. Furthermore, EU pet passports will also no longer be valid; pets will be allowed entry into the EU but the owners must now obtain an animal health certificate for each trip. UK mobile operators will also now be free to charge for roaming, though phone companies have been encouraged to implement “transparent and reasonable rates”.
Moreover, workers with professional qualifications will no longer be provided automatic recognition, meaning workers such as doctors and chefs will find it more difficult to sell their services within the European Union. Certain Businesses, such as banking, architecture, and accounting will also lose automatic right of access to EU markets and will now face new restrictions. The agreement means such business must comply with the regulations of individual countries.
A particularly controversial point in the agreement is fishing. This deal says the United Kingdom will gradually gain a larger proportion of fish from its own waters, with regular talks on access taking place from 2026. Furthermore, 2026 will allow the UK to ban EU fishing boats. However, should they choose to do so, the EU would be entitled to introduce taxes on British fish in response. Many fishermen within the UK believe the deal does not provide enough control of British waters.
Finally, disputes between the UK and EU will now be resolved in an independent tribunal, rather than within the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Brexit supporters had demanded the government “take back control” of its laws. However, the use of the ECJ could remain in Northern Ireland due to its continual participation in some EU trade rules.
Reactions from both sides were mixed. Ursula von de Leyen, the European Commission president said: “parting is such a sweet sorrow. To all Europeans, I say: It’s time to leave Brexit behind. Our future is made in Europe”, while French president, Emmanuel Macron claimed: “The unity and strength of Europe paid off”. Within the UK, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “Brexit is happening against Scotland’s will – and there is no deal that will ever make up for what Brexit takes away from us”, while British PM Boris Johnson concluded at his press conference: “We have taken back control of our laws and destiny”, describing the agreement as a “good deal for the whole of Europe”.