EU Member States and European Parliament provisionally approve Brexit deal

New agreement was given green light at separate meetings of EU ambassadors and group leaders of the European parliament earlier this week.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

30 Dec 2020

A new era in the relationship between the EU and UK will formally start on 1 January; the day the new agreement finally thrashed out by the two sides comes into effect.

The 27 Member States gave their support for the 1246-page treaty to be “provisionally applied” at the end of the year, as did MEP group leaders who also met on Monday.

Votes by MPs and peers in the UK’s Houses of Commons and Lords are due on 30 December but are expected to essentially be rubberstamping exercises.

The European parliament is delaying its vote, to February or March, because it says it needs more time to fully scrutinise the deal.

MEPs had said they did not have sufficient time before the end of the year to go through all the details.

The European Parliament, by law, will need to give it the green light to the tariff-free agreement but this too is also expected to be a formality.

“In the spirit of unity that prevailed throughout the negotiation process, and given the particular, unique and specific circumstances, the Conference of Presidents [of the European Parliament] accepts a provisional application to mitigate the disruption for citizens and businesses and prevent the chaos of a no-deal scenario.” European Parliament statement

European parliament President, David Sassoli, said, “The parliament is now ready to react responsibly in order to minimise disruption to citizens and business. The parliament will continue its work in the responsible committees and the full plenary before deciding whether to give consent in the New Year.”

New Year’s Eve marks the end of the UK’s 47-year-old membership of the EU and a new chapter in the sometimes stormy relationship.

On Monday, the leaders of the political groups and Sassoli exchanged views with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, on the deal reached on 24 December on the future relationship between the EU and the UK.

The European Parliament later issued a statement thanking EU negotiators for "their intense efforts to reach this historic agreement that can now form the basis of a new partnership."

It adds, “In the spirit of unity that prevailed throughout the negotiation process, and given the particular, unique and specific circumstances, the Conference of Presidents [of the European Parliament] accepts a provisional application to mitigate the disruption for citizens and businesses and prevent the chaos of a no-deal scenario.”

“The Conference of Presidents also decided to examine with the Council presidency and the Commission a proposal to slightly extend the period of provisional application, allowing for a parliamentary ratification during the March plenary session.”

“The Committees on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, together with all associated committees, will now carefully examine the agreement and prepare Parliament’s consent decision to be discussed and adopted in plenary in due time and before the end of the provisional application. In parallel, the political groups will prepare a draft resolution accompanying the consent vote.

In an interview the French daily Le Figaro, Barnier was asked if he was happy with the Brexit deal.

"I think everyone is saying now: what is the advantage of leaving? Even in Eurosceptic Member States, a majority is in favour of the EU and six out of ten Britons would now vote for membership. It will take some time, but there will come a day when the British will return” Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt

He said, “Yes and no. Can we be happy about a divorce?" He added that disputes between the EU and the UK could occur in the future.

“There is evidently a risk but I won’t make any unfounded accusations here. This agreement must be the basis of a smart and sustainable cooperation between Europe and the UK.”

Barnier revealed that the two sides had been on the verge of break-up “several times” during the trade talks.

The former MEP told the paper, “The British have experienced diplomats who don’t give up and always ask for more. They wanted the best of both worlds.”

He praised von der Leyen for helping to conclude a deal, adding, “Overall, the Commission’s chain of action under von der Leyen’s authority this year has been impeccable.”

Barnier also plans to divulge full details of the long running talks in a book, saying, “I will tell about those four extraordinary years this spring in a book-diary.”

Meanwhile, Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt says that while he is happy that there is an agreement he would have liked a more ambitious deal.

He says the entire Brexit process will mean that other Member States will not be inclined to leave the EU too quickly.

He said, "I think everyone is saying now: what is the advantage of leaving? Even in Eurosceptic Member States, a majority is in favour of the EU and six out of ten Britons would now vote for membership.

“It will take some time, but there will come a day when the British will return.”

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