White smoke at last as EU and UK announce Brexit deal

After months of tortuous wrangling, the two sides finally reached agreement on a trade deal on Christmas Eve, just days before the end of the transition period.

By Lorna Hutchinson

Lorna Hutchinson is Deputy Editor of The Parliament Magazine

24 Dec 2020

“We have finally found an agreement.” These were the words of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen as she relayed the news everyone had been waiting to hear.

The Christmas Eve breakthrough came after mounting speculation of an imminent deal on Wednesday as the stars appeared to finally align for the two sides.

In a press conference at 4pm CET, Von der Leyen said, “It was a long and winding road, but we have got a good deal to show for it. It is fair, it is a balanced deal, and it is the right and responsible thing to do for both sides.”

“Finally, we can leave Brexit behind us and look to the future. Europe is now moving on.”

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, said, “We have now come to the end of a very intensive four-year period, particularly over the past nine months, during which we negotiated the UK’s orderly withdrawal from the EU and a brand new partnership, which we have finally agreed today.”

“The protection of our interests has been front and centre throughout these negotiations and I am pleased that we have managed to do so. It is now for the European Parliament and the Council to have their say on this agreement.”

“We are glad that, despite episodes of bombastic rhetoric, the British government has recognised that a deal with its largest neighbour is in the interest of its citizens” Philippe Lambert, Greens/EFA co-president

David McAllister, Chair of the European Parliament’s UK Coordination Group (UKCG), welcomed the deal, which, he said, places the two sides’ future partnership “on a solid and legally secure basis.”

“In Parliament we will now evaluate the very comprehensive text and thoroughly exercise our parliamentary responsibility. The agreement must protect the interests of the EU, our citizens and businesses.”

Renew Europe leader Dacian Cioloş said, “I welcome the Brexit deal. It will contribute to mitigate the damages and provide certainty for citizens and businesses.”

But he expressed regret that the European Parliament would not be able to scrutinise and provide consent to the deal in 2020 “due to the United Kingdom’s tactics.”

Commission Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis displayed his poetry skills after the deal announcement, tweeting his own version of the famous Clement Clarke Moore verse, “’Twas The Night Before Christmas.”

“’Twas the night before Christmas and all through the EU, a deal was announced to an audible ‘phew.’ A deal that will help protect the economy from the worst effects, of a sad decision to leave, on this cold Christmas Eve.”

“Finally, we can leave Brexit behind us and look to the future. Europe is now moving on” Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President

Belgian Renew Europe deputy Guy Verhofstadt said, “Finally a historic and unprecedented deal in the interest of all is reached. While less ambitious than we wanted, through binding arbitration it fully preserves the single market.”

“Thanks to Michel Barnier our Union came out of these negotiations more united and stronger. I hope future UK politicians will build on this partnership so we can regain the close relationship that the EU and UK deserve. It will be a first step in the return of the UK into the European family.”

Fellow Renew Europe MEP Sophie in 't Veld said, “Cliff edge avoided. The EU-UK agreement brings much-needed certainty at last. That is good news. But it brings feelings of relief, not joy.”

Irish EPP MEP Frances Fitzgerald said, “This Brexit agreement is a hugely important moment for Ireland and will prevent a massive disruption in trade. A big thank you to Michel Barnier and his team,” and Irish EPP colleague Maria Walsh said, “A welcomed deal, at last. A final and sad day in many ways.”

“Our neighbour, the UK, is officially no longer an EU counterpart. However, a deal was necessary to protect our Good Friday Agreement and peace, our trade and our island.”

The Greens/EFA Group also welcomed the deal but insisted that the European Parliament is given sufficient time to scrutinise all elements of the agreement before it is voted on.

“The protection of our interests has been front and centre throughout these negotiations and I am pleased that we have managed to do so. It is now for the European Parliament and the Council to have their say on this agreement” Michel Barnier, EU chief Brexit negotiator

Philippe Lamberts, President of the Greens/EFA and UKCG member said, “The EU and the UK will remain close neighbours and the absence of a deal would have put our relationship, in which we are bound to one another by geography, on a path of lasting bitterness.”

“We have always considered that in a world where, like it or not, we are all inter-dependent, the only way for democracies to ‘take back control’ is to work together in order to face the global challenges of our times, and they are plenty.”

“We are glad that, despite episodes of bombastic rhetoric, the British government has recognised that a deal with its largest neighbour is in the interest of its citizens.”

He added, “The devil is always in the detail and we insist that the European Parliament is given the proper time to scrutinise and potentially ratify such a wide-ranging deal. The European Parliament is not just here to rubber stamp agreements. Due process as well as checks and balances are vital pillars of democracy; they must be respected to give this deal any legitimacy in the eyes of European citizens.”

S&D leader Iratxe García Pérez said that following a very difficult and uncertain year for people, especially workers, today’s agreement was welcome news. But she pointed out that with the onus now on the European Parliament to scrutinise the deal, “we are now in the unwanted position that consent is only possible in early 2021.”

She explained that next week Parliament’s group leaders will meet Ursula von der Leyen to discuss how to avoid damage and disruption for citizens and workers, ensuring a stable start to 2021.

Martin Schirdewan, GUE/NGL co-leader and UKCG member said that while he welcomed the agreement, “unfortunately, the internal politics of the British Conservative Party mean that it will not be possible for it to receive democratic scrutiny by the European Parliament before it comes into provisional effect.”

He said that over the coming weeks, Parliament will be examining the agreement “in great detail,” adding, “As Member States will not have time to properly scrutinise and evaluate the agreement, it falls to the European Parliament to deliberate carefully before giving its consent.”

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