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Parliament formally approves EU-UK trade and co-operation agreement

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Parliament voted with a large majority in favour of granting its consent to the agreement setting the rules of the future EU-UK relationship. The consent decision was adopted by 660 votes for, five against and 32 abstentions, while the accompanying resolution, setting out Parliament’s evaluation of and expectations from the deal, passed by 578 votes, with 51 against and 68 abstentions. The vote took place on Tuesday (27 April), with results announced today (28 April).

On 24 December 2020, EU and UK negotiators had agreed on the Trade and Co-operation Agreement establishing the terms for future EU-UK co-operation. To minimize disruption, the agreement has been provisionally applied since 1 January 2021. Parliament’s consent is necessary for the agreement to enter into force permanently before its lapse on 30 April 2021.

Departure is 'historic mistake', but deal is welcome

In the resolution prepared by the UK Co-ordination Group and the Conference of Presidents, Parliament strongly welcomes the conclusion of the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement that limits the negative consequences of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, which it considers a “historic mistake” as no third country can enjoy the same benefits as an EU member.

The zero quotas and zero tariffs trade agreement between the EU and the UK are viewed positively by MEPs, and guarantees on fair competition rules could serve as a model for future trade agreements, MEPs add. Parliament agrees with provisions on, among others, fisheries, consumers, air traffic and energy.

However, MEPs regret that the UK did not want the agreement to extend to foreign, security and development policies and did not want to participate in the Erasmus+ student exchange programme.

Peace on the island of Ireland

Pointing to preserving peace on the island of Ireland as one of Parliament’s main goals in agreeing the future relationship, MEPs condemn the UK’s recent unilateral actions that are in breach of the Withdrawal Agreement. They call on the UK government “to act in good faith and fully implement the terms of the agreements which it has signed”, including the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, and apply them based on a timetable jointly set up with the European Commission.

Parliament to be involved in monitoring

MEPs underline that Parliament must play a full role in monitoring how the agreement is applied, including by being involved in unilateral EU actions under the agreement and having its views taken into account.

“The EU and the UK have created the basis for a relationship among equals. Most importantly, today is a beginning, not the end. We agreed in many important areas, such as securing mutual market access and building a good relationship on trade. Much work remains on foreign policy and educational exchange programmes. For citizens’ interests to be represented, Parliament must be closely involved. Only a partnership in which both sides stick to their commitments has a future,” said Andreas Schieder (S&D, AT), rapporteur for the Committee on Foreign Affairs.

“Ratification of the agreement is not a vote of blind confidence in the UK Government’s intention to implement our agreements in good faith. Rather, it is an EU insurance policy against further unilateral deviations from what was jointly agreed. Parliament will remain vigilant. Let’s now convene the Parliamentary Partnership Assembly to continue building bridges across the Channel," said Christophe Hansen (EPP, LU), rapporteur for the Committee on International Trade.

Responding to the vote, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “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.”

UK Cabinet Minister Lord Frost said: “Today marks an important moment as the European Parliament have voted in support of our Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the EU.

“Last year both sides worked tirelessly to agree a deal based on friendly cooperation and free trade between sovereign equals.

“Today's vote brings certainty and allows us to focus on the future.  There will be much for us and the EU to work on together through the new Partnership Council and we are committed to working to find solutions that work for both of us. 

“We will always aim to act in that positive spirit but we will also always stand up for our interests when we must – as a sovereign country in full control of our own destiny.”

Today’s vote is one stage in the EU’s ratification process and there remain a few formalities to be completed over the next few days.

Next steps

With Parliament’s consent, the agreement will enter into force once Council has concluded it by 30 April. 

Further information 

Brexit

UK tells EU on Northern Ireland: Be responsible, be reasonable

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Britain's Trade Minister Liz Truss walks after the ceremony of State Opening of Parliament at the Palace of Westminster, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions, in London, Britain, May 11, 2021. REUTERS/John Sibley

Britain's trade minister on Wednesday (16 June) called on the European Union to be responsible and reasonable in a row over the implementation of Northern Ireland Protocol of the Brexit divorce deal, write Guy Faulconbridge and Michael Holden, Reuters.

"We need the EU to be pragmatic about the checks that are undertaken and that was always the way the protocol was drafted," International Trade Secretary Liz Truss (pictured) told Sky News.

"It requires compromise between the parties, and the EU need to be reasonable," Truss said.

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Brexit deal risks undermining Northern Ireland peace, says UK's Frost

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The historic US-brokered 1998 Irish peace agreement has been put at risk by the implementation of the Brexit divorce deal in the British province of Northern Ireland, Prime Minister Boris Johnson's top Brexit negotiator said on Wednesday (16 June), writes Guy Faulconbridge.

The United States has expressed grave concern that a dispute between London and Brussels over the implementation of the 2020 Brexit treaty could undermine the Good Friday accord, which effectively ended three decades of violence.

After the United Kingdom exited the bloc's orbit on 1 January, Johnson has unilaterally delayed the implementation of some provisions of the deal's Northern Ireland Protocol and his top negotiator has said the protocol is unsustainable.

"It's super important that we keep the purpose of the nature of the protocol in mind, which is to support the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and not to undermine it, as it risks doing," Brexit Minister David Frost (pictured) told lawmakers.

The 1998 peace deal largely brought an end to the "Troubles" - three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant "loyalist" paramilitaries in which 3,600 people were killed.

Johnson has said he could trigger emergency measures in the Northern Ireland protocol after its implementation disrupted trade between Britain and its province.

The protocol aims to keep the province, which borders EU member Ireland, in both the United Kingdom's customs territory and the EU's single market.

The EU wants to protect its single market, but an effective border in the Irish Sea created by the protocol cuts off Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom - to the fury of Protestant unionists.

Frost said London wanted agreed solutions to enable the Protocol to operate without undermining the consent of either broad community in Northern Ireland.

"If we can't do that, and at the moment, we aren't making a lot of progress on that - if we can't do that then all options are on the table for what we do next," Frost said. "We would rather find agreed solutions."

Asked if the Britain would invoke Article 16 of the Northern Irish Protocol to force a rethink, Frost said: "We are extremely concerned about the situation.

"Support for the protocol has corroded rapidly," Frost said.

"Our frustration ... is that we're not getting a lot of traction, and we feel we have put in a lot of ideas and we haven't had very much back to help move these discussions forward, and meanwhile ... time is running out."

Ireland's foreign minister said in response that the province's trading arrangement's were not a threat to the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom, but simply a means of managing disruption from its exit from the EU.

"Don't know how many times this needs to be said before it's fully accepted as true. NI Protocol is a technical trading arrangement to manage the disruption of Brexit for the island of Ireland to the greatest extent possible," Simon Coveney said on Twitter.

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Getting nothing back, UK minister says frustration is growing with EU

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Frustration in the British government is rising because London has offered a number of proposals to solve a standoff with the European Union over Northern Ireland but has not had a lot back, Brexit minister David Frost said on Wednesday (16 June), writes Guy Faulconbridge, Reuters.

"Our position is that we would like to find negotiated agreements that ... bring it back to the sort of light-touch agreement that we thought we were agreeing," Frost told a parliamentary committee.

"Our frustration ... is that we're not getting a lot of traction, and we feel we have put in a lot of ideas and we haven't had very much back to help move these discussions forward, and meanwhile ... time is running out."

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