Despite huge disagreements in recent years, the European Union and the United Kingdom breathed collective relief on Thursday after they had finally managed to find common ground: a post-Brexit deal has been reached, they announced.
But what is the deal really about? Here’s a breakdown of some of the more important points, including what happens next.
While Britain is officially leaving the EU single market, the agreement states that no tariffs or quotas will be imposed on goods. However, customs controls will potentially delay processes at the border.
This applies to all goods that comply with the rules of origin; This is to prevent products from third countries that do not have a free trade agreement with the EU from entering the bloc through Great Britain to avoid tariffs and quotas.
It will be up to Great Britain to determine whether EU citizens coming for short stays in the country will have to meet the visa requirements.
“Currently, the UK provides visa-free travel for short-term visits for nationals of all Member States,” according to the British government. The EU will continue to be treated as a bloc for visa purposes.
Short-term business travelers from Britain can visit the block for 90 days in any 180-day period, according to the British government.
Travelers, for example tourists, will continue to be covered by a mutual health care plan in case of emergency.
ENVIRONMENTAL AND LABOR STANDARDS
In the final agreement, neither party is bound by the other’s rules on environmental or social standards, but both have committed to general principles of level playing field.
If one party feels that the other is putting itself at an advantage by undermining the standards, it can appeal to an independent arbitration panel, which is crucial for the British, not the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which can grant the right to impose sanctions.
According to the British government, the two sides agreed not to lower their labor standards for the protection of workers “in a way that has an effect on trade.”
Both trading partners will have their separate subsidy rules, but if a party believes that the subsidies distort or are detrimental to its own industries, it can challenge those measures in front of an independent arbitration mechanism, with the possibility of imposing compensation.
This has been a turning point for the EU, which was concerned that if Britain were granted free access to the bloc’s market, it could undermine competition if strict subsidy rules were not imposed.
This was one of the most difficult parts of the deal, an EU official said, and negotiators studied it carefully “line by line, fish by fish”.
During a transition period until June 2026, the EU will retain 75% of its fishing quotas in British waters, transferring a quarter to the British fishing industry. This big boost for the British side is worth 146 million pounds ($ 198 million) over five years, according to the British government.
Thereafter, there will be annual negotiations on catch and access quotas between Britain and the EU, as the bloc already does with some neighbors. The exact zones are under discussion.
To avoid a hard border with the EU member Republic of Ireland, neighboring Northern Ireland will remain aligned with many EU standards when it leaves the single market and the bloc’s customs union with the rest of the UK. This compromise eliminates the need for many checks on the Irish border and was developed long before the trade agreement. Most Northern Irish politicians welcomed the deal, but said they will need time to study it and assess all the ramifications.
NOT IN THE AGREEMENT
While the agreement is lengthy, the legal text is more than 1,246 pages, some parts have been omitted: Britain will not participate in the Erasmus student exchange program, nor has a framework for cooperation in foreign policy or defense been agreed.
On December 31, the post-Brexit transition period ends, after which Britain will no longer be part of the single market and the bloc’s customs union, but the deal has yet to be ratified by both parties. London has called a special parliamentary session for December 30. EU ambassadors discussed the deal on Friday, but the Council of the European Union has yet to approve it unanimously.
The European Parliament must also approve it, and as that is likely to happen only next year, a provisional application is necessary. The European Commission suggests that this interim period be extended until February 28.
However, the deal is unlikely to be turned down on either side, given the risks at stake.