27 April 2021 | NEWS

Today marks an important day in the world of Brexit, with the European Parliament set to ratify the Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA). The agreement has been in place since the UK left the bloc in January, although only on a provisional basis until it has been fully ratified.

Because the UK has a land border with the EU in Ireland, it incorporates a seperate Northern Ireland Protocol to manage this whilst mainland Britain is outside the Customs Union and Single Market. The TCA does allow for goods to be traded between the UK and EU without tariffs or quotas, however the majority of the UK economy is services, which now have some restrictions. Northern Ireland remains part of the Union’s Single Market, so goods traded from mainland Britain are subject to EU checks.

The UK has unilaterally decided to ease trading rules for Northern Ireland, which has caused upset in the EU and Northern Ireland executives. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “We need solutions, not soundbites, if we are to make the Protocol work for the benefit of everyone in Northern Ireland.” She is leading EU efforts to find a resolution to the tension.

During the lengthy Brexit negotiations, the UK made it clear that control over their fishing waters was a sign of sovereignty and this was a steadfast red line from Westminster. Clément Beaune, France’s Secretary of State for European Affairs, has accused the UK of blocking fishing rights and said the country could be subject to “reprisals” in terms of financial services arrangements by the EU in general, and France in particular.

Speaking on French news channel BFMTV recently, Beaune said the United Kingdom is expecting “quite a few authorisations from us for financial services. We won’t give any for as long as we don’t have guarantees on fishing and other issues.”

Parts of the UK fishing industry have suffered considerably as a result of Brexit due to an EU ban on UK exports of live shellfish, whilst French fishermen say licences to get access to British waters are difficult to obtain. Scotland has been hit particularly hard by the export ban, with the UK Enviroment Secretary hitting back saying it is “indefensible” and “unneccesary”.

Under a separate Protocol, Northern Ireland remains de facto part of the EU’s Single Market, so goods arriving there from Britain have to undergo EU checks. The European Commission has accused the UK of breaching the agreement on Northern Ireland trade, launching legal action on the grounds that Britain has broken international law, which Downing Street denies.

The TCA is the culmination of the Brexit negotiations that established the future relationship between the UK and the EU, as negotiated by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s administration and concluded on Christmas Eve last year. It is the long-term successor to the Withdrawal Agreement, which was dogged by a fraught period in Westminster that saw Theresa May resign as the second female Prime Minister in 2019, because her version of it could not pass a vote in the House of Commons after three attempts.

The result of the vote in the European Parliament is anticipated tomorrow, though it is widely expected to pass. It remains unclear what the consequences would be if it did not.

UPDATE: MEPs have voted to back the Trade and Co-operation Agreement by 660 votes to 5, with 32 abstentions.

Hugo Sugg is a political commentator and aspiring MP. His interests include homelessness, democracy and influencing policy. He is also the CEO of a charity responding to homelessness.

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