Done Deal: A Guide to the Brexit Trade Deal between the UK and the EU
Updated: Mar 4
“The clock is no longer ticking” announced Michel Barnier on Christmas Eve as it was announced that the UK and the EU had finally reached a trade deal. After 4 and a half years of trade negotiations following the 2016 Brexit referendum result, and with the clock most definitely ticking in the days leading up to Barnier’s statement, somehow a deal has been struck.
Boris Johnson has hailed the deal as “a good deal for the whole of Europe” whilst EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the deal was “fair”, “balanced” and that we have a “good deal”.
Labour leader and leader of the opposition, Sir Kier Starmer, has instructed his MPs to vote in favour of the deal despite calling it “a thin agreement” which does not “provide adequate protections” to workers’ rights. Nevertheless, he pointed out that it was either “this deal or no deal” and therefore has decided to back the agreement, a major step in ensuring the deal is ratified by Westminster.
However, what does the agreement actually say? You can hardly be blamed for not wanting to sit and read 2,000 pages of complex and confusing political language, so here we have broken down the agreement to the most important points (you're welcome).
1. Free trade
Arguably one of the most important reasons for successfully negotiating a deal was maintaining zero tariffs and quotas on goods travelling between the UK and the EU. It had been said that if no deal prevailed, goods would be subject to extensive checks on the border leading to extensive delays and wreaking havoc at border crossing points.
This deal ensures that goods travelling between the UK and the EU will continue to move freely and without delay.
Further, a no deal scenario would have more than likely led to an increase in prices of goods originating from the EU, for example fruit from Spain, as the UK and the EU would trade under World Trade Organisation tariffs. Therefore, we can still enjoy strawberries in the middle of January for the prices we have come to know.
As well as goods, there is an agreement on cross-border trade in services and investment, securing market access for a wide range of sectors including finance, professional and business services and transport.
This is a big relief to many companies and is an important part of the deal, as the service sector accounts for roughly 80% of GDP in the UK and London is considered one of the financial capitals of the world.
2. Visiting, living and working in the EU
As part of the EU, British citizens were allowed to live and work in EU member states, unrestricted and visa-free.
The agreement also allows British people to travel to EU countries for up to 90 days within a 180-day period, visa-free for tourism. Therefore, your yearly summer holiday to Alicante is still allowed without the need to apply for a visa.
3. Labour and workers' rights
The EU and the UK have agreed to “not reduce the level of protection for workers or fail to enforce employment rights”. However, the UK is free to regulate, adopt and modify their policies in accordance with international law.
4. Are we still safe?
There has been a lot of talk about security following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. For example, how much information will be shared and how easy will the sharing of information be between the UK, EU member states and Europol (the EU’s agency for law enforcement)?
The deal states that there will be seamless sharing of information between these three bodies. Information including DNA, fingerprints and vehicle registration data as well as passenger name record data, operational information and criminal record data will be shared freely.
The deal is quick to point out that there will be effective multilateral cooperation between the UK and Europol on serious and organised crime and terrorism. There will also be the presence of UK liaison officers at Europol headquarters in order to “facilitate cross-border cooperation”.
5. Who is going to enforce this agreement?
One frustration that seemed to repeatedly arise during the 2016 EU Referendum was on the role of the European Court of Justice. Some felt it unfair that the UK was subject to rulings from Luxembourg and not the UK. Therefore, the UK have made it clear that the European Court of Justice will play no role in enforcing this treaty and no longer have jurisdiction over the UK.
The trade deal states that there will “independent arbitration” if one side is seen to have violated any part of the deal. Who an independent arbitrator is or what they will look like is anyone’s guess - my guess is possibly 3rd party countries or even organisations such as the World Trade Organisation.
6. The climate
Whilst there is not an extensive agreement about the climate, the deal does set out a plan for cooperation between the EU and the UK on tackling climate change. Both parties will work together to ensure neither are gaining an unfair advantage by allowing their companies to produce more greenhouse emissions than the other.
The finer details will be determined and governed by an “independent panel of experts”. The key takeaway though is that both the EU and the UK are aligned in their commitment to tackle climate change and follow rules and commitments made in the Paris Agreement.
So, the clock has indeed stopped ticking. The UK and the EU finally came to an agreement at the 11th hour, agreeing arguably the hardest Brexit possible without leaving with no-deal.
And now we wait.
Many are optimistic for a bright future outside of the EU whilst some are still in despair that we ever left. Whatever your view, you can probably agree it will be beneficial to close this chapter on the last 4 and a half years of angry debate and prolonged negotiations and start 2021 afresh.
For more updates and easy-to-read resources, head to our dedicated Brexit section.