The European Parliament has voted overwhelmingly to ratify the post-Brexit trade deal between the EU and UK, bringing to an end years of fraught negotiations. The Parliament gave its consent to the deal in vote of 660 votes in favour, five against and 32 abstentions – a necessary final step for the deal to come into force permanently. Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed the ratification as approval as a more stable foundation for the relationship.
He said in a statement: “This week is the final step in a long journey, providing stability to our new relationship with the EU as vital trading partners, close allies and sovereign equals.
“Now is the time to look forward to the future and to building a more global Britain.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also welcomed the vote, saying the Trade and Co-operation Agreement “marks the foundation of a strong and close partnership with the UK”.
In an acknowledgement of EU concerns about the Prime Minister’s approach to deals with Brussels, she warned that “faithful implementation is essential”.
The deal is without a doubt a huge triumph for Mr Johnson, who in 2019, won a thumping majority at the general election with the promise “to get Brexit done”.
However, while Brexit might be done, political commentator and senior Economist Harry Western accused Mr Johnson of “failing to signal a decisive divergence from the EU economic model”.
He wrote in a recent report: “Significant new trade deals with third countries remain stuck thanks to protectionist agricultural interests, and regulatory changes have been minimal.
“Worst of all, the government is being sucked towards dynamic alignment with EU agricultural rules thanks to the problems being caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“This threatens to derail Britain’s global ambitions entirely and leave it an economic satellite of the EU.”
If Brexiteers thought that January 1, 2021 marked the final end of attempts to impose a fake “Brexit in name only”, Mr Western wrote, they have unfortunately been proved wrong.
As Lord David Frost, Britain’s chief negotiator, has correctly said, the purpose of Brexit is divergence.
Divergence from “a damaging and stagnant EU economic model that has impeded the growth of the UK economy in recent decades”.
Concretely, this means the UK pursuing a genuinely independent trade policy and moving aggressively to alter or scrap harmful inherited EU regulations.
However, this is not really happening
Mr Western explained: “On trade policy, it is true that the UK has had a lot of success in rolling over deals with third countries that were initially agreed when the UK was part of the EU.
“Indeed, the UK has done this much faster than many commentators thought possible. But in terms of new deals, the ledger remains essentially bare.
“The Japan deal last year did include a few extra elements on top of the previous EU-negotiated deal, but nothing very dramatic.”
He concluded: “Overall, it is clear that the UK’s ‘Global Britain’ rhetoric is not being matched by real action.
“The government is proving unwilling to make bold strokes on trade or regulation and is drifting towards expedients in the SPS area that would undermine the whole purpose of Brexit.
“There are elements within the Government that appear to be strongly pushing this agenda. The risk of ‘Brexit in name only’ is now higher than at any time since Theresa May presented her fake Brexit deal more than two years ago.”
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In an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk, Labour councillor and general secretary of Labour Leave Brandon Chilton also criticised the trade agreement the Prime Minister struck with the EU.
He said: “I am still very concerned about the deal Boris Johnson negotiated.
“Part of our country has essentially been carved off: Northern Ireland.
“There is a border down the Irish Sea and people trading from Great Britain to Northern Ireland are experiencing extreme paperwork.
“We are also seeing violence in Belfast and other cities, and while I don’t attribute this to the Brexit deal, I do think it is a contributing factor.”
The Brexiteer added: “I think Boris Johnson needs to take a firm line.
“He needs to show some leadership, bring parties together and explore how we can bring Northern Ireland back under British administration, custom and regulation.”
The origins of the recent protests in Belfast have been attributed in part to resentment among the loyalist community at the Northern Ireland Protocol – part of the treaty that saw the UK leave the EU.
However, the police’s recent decision not to prosecute senior lawmakers from Irish republican party Sinn Fein for breaking COVID-19 rules, in order to attend the funeral of high-profile former Irish Republican Army member Bobby Storey, has also been cited as lighting the tinderbox.
Northern Ireland is not the only thing Mr Chilton is concerned about, though.
He added: “I am also worried about fishing.
“Shellfish producers in Kent still have got problems getting their goods into France, for example.
“We haven’t completely got back the territorial waters that we were promised.
“And everything is still up for review in five years.”
Mr Chilton concluded: “Although Brexit is done, it is not over.
“This will be a discussion, the extent to which we move closer or further away from Europe, that we will have for years.”